Maximize space. Accelerate placement. Find ways to help families and others into shelters or transitional housing. Those are the immediate priorities of Scott Morishige, the governor’s new coordinator on homelessness and a man on a mission. He and his team are trying to stay ahead of the sidewalk sweeps, helping folks take advantage of available services— even to the point of transporting them to emergency housing.
They’re also working to make the homeless more self-sufficient through a wide range of outreach services. However, past surveys have shown at least a quarter of the population just need affordable housing because their low wages can’t keep a roof over their heads.
“Issues like homelessness impact us all,” he said. “It could happen to anyone. I’ve seen so many clients — just regular working people —paying 70 to 80 percent of their income just toward rent. But they never imagined they would be homeless.”
Morishige said that since August, the Governor’s Leadership Team on Homelessness has placed 94 people — about a third of the Kaka‘ako encampment — into shelters or more permanent housing. He credits Gov. Ige’s group with helping to make progress faster. “This wouldn’t have happened without the governor’s team. There’s better alignment of city, state and federal resources,” he said.
Beyond Kaka‘ako, Morishige listed four areas — Wai‘anae, Waipahu, Waimanalo and Wahiawa — to help the homeless in a comprehensive way. “We’re using the same approach of surveying the residents to get a better sense of the numbers, finding out what they need, then looking for available space. We’re also looking at available state property for transitional housing and even longer-term affordable housing.”
He and Rachael Wong, the Department of Human Services director, are also scheduling visits to the neighbor islands to bridge the gap with service providers and engage with the community.
For Morishige, helping people is part of his DNA. “My mom worked for DHS for 35 years and my dad was a Scoutmaster, “ he explained. “Both my parents were always involved in the community, and they tried to instill that in my brother and me.
“I’ve been doing this type of work (in human services) for the past 14 years, so I saw there was a large need. These problems didn’t evolve overnight. There’s no silver bullet. But I do feel we’re making progress.”
Read more of our October issue here.