Careful strategizing can help ease homeless crisis
AS 2006 draws to a close and we embark on a new year, we should take this time to learn from mistakes made, and move forward with clear strategy and careful planning so we can use this window of opportunity where we have a full treasury and a thriving economy to create a better Hawaii for all our residents.
Many of us who work with people who are homeless are encouraged by the tremendous commitment to address homelessness that we are seeing. We thank the media for educating our community about the contributing factors leading to the high number of people now experiencing homelessness. These factors include the lack of truly affordable rentals, untreated serious mental illness and the high cost of living. The recognition of the complexity of the problem helps us set aside preconceptions we might have about those who are homeless, and tackle the dynamics affecting homelessness. With this comes the ability to plan and execute a fiscally sound and effective strategy to address the poverty and housing crisis facing our island residents.
Now is the time to look hard at what works and what is still needed to address the crisis. Every day, the Institute for Human Services serves more than 400 people; men, women and families with children who are experiencing homelessness. IHS provides emergency shelter services like showers, hot meals and so much more. Over the years our mission has expanded to include ending chronic homelessness, addressing mental health and substance abuse issues, and having a team of professional social services staff on board, working hard to help our guests develop plans so they can get back on their feet and thrive. We have found that it takes more than food and shelter to end homelessness. At IHS we have a continuum of services including a Housing Department to help people find affordable rentals, case managers who help people learn financial management skills, job placement assistance, parenting classes and more. It takes comprehensive social services, dedicated staff and compassion to make a real change. It also takes having truly affordable rental housing available so people can leave our shelters and stabilize their lives.
This year, our legislators and Gov. Linda Lingle have included affordable housing and homelessness on their agendas. Please also remember that what our shelters need is adequate ongoing dedicated funding for basic costs and support services at our existing emergency and transitional shelter, which frequently struggle to pay for administrative and operational costs. We need to expand our capacity to serve people who are chronically homeless and who need vouchers to make possible appropriate, safe housing outside the shelter. We agree that repairing existing low-income rental inventory and our public housing is key, in addition to developing more affordable rental housing.
When people are in housing, everything else becomes easier -- work, training, mental health and substance abuse recovery. Let's think big picture, and invest in programs that really work for all who find themselves homeless, whether it is a crisis or a chronic issue.
Margot Schrire is the director of community relations at the Institute for Human Services.