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StarBulletin.com

Isle homeless count is expected to soar


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POSTED: Friday, January 30, 2009

Officials began counting the number of people without roofs over their heads last week to estimate the size of Hawaii's homeless population.

First, homeless service providers and volunteers counted those who spent the night last Friday at shelters across the state.

Over the following week, they split into teams of two and visited beaches, streets and parks asking each person where they slept last Friday. The teams took down names and descriptions of each individual to ensure no one is counted multiple times.

Although it will be months before officials compile their final national tally of those sleeping in tunnels, under bridges and overpasses and in cars and tents, they expect the totals to be substantially higher than the last count two years ago.

With the economy slumbering, most cities are reporting a huge increase in the need for shelter. They include working but poor renters who end up getting evicted when their landlords default.

The count, which the Department of Housing and Urban Development requires for any community seeking federal funds for homeless programs, includes those on the street as well as people in homeless shelters, transitional housing and in hospitals, mental wards and jails.

Darlene Hein, who led a large part of the survey efforts on Oahu, said she would not know the results until she saw the survey answers.

In general, however, she said homeless service providers have not seen a large increase in the homeless population - at least not yet.

But they have been getting more inquiries from people needing help finding food or paying their rent and electric bill.

Hein, the Waikiki Health Center's director of community service, said many hotel and restaurant employees have had their hours scaled back and are working 10 to 20 hours a week compared with 30 to 40 before. So people are being squeezed even if they have not lost their jobs.

“;We're getting a lot more calls about food pantries, food banks and food stamps. And just more questions about 'How do I get some help,' which is the first step before 'I no longer have a place to live.'”; Hein said.

The survey results should tell officials what percentage of the homeless are single.

Hein said organizers hope the results will give them a better snapshot of who the chronically homeless are and what circumstances - such as a disability, mental illness or drug use - might contribute to their being homeless.

The surveyors are covering all parts of the islands, including places not known for hosting homeless people.

“;We did Kahala, Hawaii Kai,”; Hein said. “;You're not going to find a lot of homeless individuals in that area, but we found three.”;

Many of Oahu's homeless live on beaches. Some also live high on mountain ridges.

The state says more than 20,901 people statewide used some form of homeless outreach service last year.