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Slight bump in homelessness

LIHU‘E — A new survey showed a slight increase in homelessness on Kaua‘i during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Point-in-Time Count, conducted by Bridging the Gap, a coalition of agencies working to end homelessness on the neighbor islands, showed that there were 444 homeless individuals on island — a 5% increase over the 424 in 2020. (In 2021, only sheltered individuals were counted due to COVID-19.)

Despite this increase, family homelessness dropped 33%. Statewide, the increase was less than 1%, brought down by a net decrease in homelessness in Maui County.

Adam Roversi, director of the Kaua‘i County Housing Agency, said that policies like eviction moratoriums, emergency rental assistance and affordable housing projects helped stem a larger increase in homelessness during the pandemic,“when rents were increasing while economic hardships simultaneously reduced tenants ability to pay.”

He cited Waimea Huakai, Pua Loke Apartments and Kealaula as developments that made a significant impact.

Melody Lopez of Catholic Charities agreed with that assessment, saying that that many individuals and families had found their way into affordable housing.

“Housing ends homelessness,” said Lopez. “If we have more housing units, that helps to get people into homes.”

She referenced a program in which organizations worked with developers to set aside units for homeless individuals, resulting in five new units for previously homeless at the Pua Loke development.

The Point-in-Time survey looks at the number of homeless on
island during a particular night, collecting data about people’s locations, how long they have been homeless and whether or not they were living in a shelter.

More of the homeless on Kaua‘i were unsheltered in the 2022 count, continuing a trend that has been seen over the last four years.

In 2019, a total of 95 of the overall homeless population were unsheltered, while in 2022 only 40 were. This may have been a result of the pandemic.

“It’s possible that our shelter beds weren’t being accessed due to the effects of COVID,” said Makana Kamibayashi of the Family Life Center. “They have to downsize a lot of available space in order to social distance. The shelters we’re talking about are emergency shelters and transitional shelters, which are very limited already.”

She said that shelters are generally at full capacity.

Roversi mentioned that the county’s wastewater system upgrades could enable a future expansion of the Kaua‘i Economic Opportunity shelter, but that there were no immediate plans for an expansion at this moment.

Another notable trend was a migration of homeless people from the Westside to the Eastside.

Some 41 fewer individuals were located in the west in 2022 as compared to 2021, and 61 more were located in the east.

Kamibayashi saw this as possibly the result of the shutdown of the Lydgate Park encampment, which caused individuals to migrate further east.

A full 164 of the homeless population were deemed to be chronically homeless, meaning that they have been homeless for more than a year and had a disability, a 30-person increase.

Data from 2021 showed that most of these homeless were long-term Hawai‘i residents, with 63% having lived in the state for more than 20 years and less than 1% having lived here for less than a year.

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Guthrie Scrimgeour, reporter, can be reached at 647-0329 or gscrimgeour@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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