- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) - Honolulu officials helped 465 homeless people find housing on Oahu this year, Mayor Kirk Caldwell said.

Hawaii has the largest rate of homeless people per capita of any state in the nation, and the latest count on Oahu found 4,900 people on the streets or in shelters.

“While every day we see still folks in areas that do not have housing and we get frustrated, we need to look at what we have accomplished,” Caldwell told reporters Wednesday. “We are making a difference. It doesn’t mean the problem is done, and I for one would never promise to solve homelessness, but I think we’re making a difference.”

City officials worked closely with service providers like the Institute for Human Services to find permanent housing. Most of those helped were veterans. There were 275 veterans who got permanent housing, and another 265 helped into transitional housing or shelters.

The city also helped 173 chronically homeless people find homes through the Housing First program, which provides homes for people with drug abuse or mental health problems and offers supportive services. Unlike shelters, which often require that people undergo treatment before they can get a bed, Housing First emphasizes providing a living space before treatment begins. That program has enjoyed a 97 percent retention rate, said Connie Mitchell, executive director of the Institute for Human Services.

The city’s latest transitional shelter at Sand Island had 19 residents living in modular units, and two residents left to move into supportive housing, Caldwell said. More units will be added in December and the site is expected to be complete in mid-January. There are vacancies at the Sand Island shelter, and staff members at the Institute for Human Services are sorting through 70 applications, Mitchell said.

City officials are acquiring four properties for affordable housing programs, including the Sand Island shelter space, and they’re redeveloping properties in Chinatown and Waianae.

The city expects to spend about $140 million on homelessness problems over two years, including $26 million in operating expenses and $114 million for capital improvement projects. But the city let about $400,000 from the operating budget lapse, Caldwell said.

“Out of some $80 million in the budget, there were so many projects that we could have picked, it was just a matter of competing interests,” said Gary Nakata, director of the city Department of Community Services.

There’s about $10 million available to spend on new projects such as the Sand Island shelter through June, but the city needs more manpower to work on those projects, and was denied funding for more positions by the City Council, Caldwell said.

“I don’t believe any city council members don’t want us to succeed, but we need the staff to succeed,” Caldwell said.

Council Chairman Ernie Martin said the council wants to augment the good work that Caldwell and his staff are doing.

“The Council is open to seriously considering the Mayor’s request for more staff… The members have ideas and projects they would like to get done and we hope the Mayor will seriously consider them as part of our collaborative effort to address this crisis,” Martin said in a statement.

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