City plans civilian response to Oahu's homeless population

Apr. 10—The number of homeless people on the streets of Oahu has grown. There are fewer shelter beds available because of COVID-19 distancing. And the city plans to launch a new civilian-based homeless response system this summer, the new head of the city's Office of Housing told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser's Spotlight Hawaii online video program Friday.

Anton Krucky, executive director of the city Office of Housing, was adamant that homeless sweeps are an unsuccessful approach to homelessness.

"Compassionate disruption doesn't work, " he said. "It pits us against them. It also doesn't work. So why should we continue to do something that doesn't work ?"

But Krucky provided no clear guidance for people frustrated with homeless encampments and for business owners who face each day hosing down human feces and urine.

"I believe that the solutions to that lie in the communities, " Krucky said. "So rather than the city doing something to a community, we would like to be working with the community. So I want to learn. I want to understand. I want to embrace what they can do, and then we want to support it. And so I want to work with each community on how we can do that. ... Homelessness is not a crime. These are individuals, and we have to treat them with a certain amount of dignity that everyone deserves. .... I can see a time when they're part of the cleanup. ... If we can do that, then I think we make a major shift in what we can do."

There was no nationwide Point in Time Count homeless census conducted this year because of COVID-19. But Krucky said Oahu is now home to an estimated 3, 000 people living on the street and another 3, 000 who are sheltered. And 400 people who had been living in homeless shelters had to be forced out because of COVID-19 limits calling for a 30 % reduction in beds, he said.

"When you say that it seems to be growing on the streets, it actually is, " Krucky said.

Asked for specific differences in homeless strategy between the administrations of Blangiardi and his predecessor, Kirk Caldwell, Krucky had no specifics.

"Maybe I don't know what I don't know, " said Krucky, who previously co-founded a company specializing in tissue engineering and cell biology research. "I've not been in government. Before, I've always been in business."

The city is planning a new "Crisis Outreach Response and Engagement "—or CORE—approach that will run 24 /7 starting this summer to dispatch teams of social workers and medical and mental health specialists to homeless calls, instead of relying on Honolulu police, Krucky said.

An eight-week analysis will review the concept, which has resulted in 30 % reductions in calls for service in two unidentified cities, Krucky said.

"I expect this summer, " he said. "I expect you'll see branded vehicles out and working ... if we can find the right individuals and pay them appropriately. ... I'm very excited about it."

Krucky supported the idea of tiny home villages that are up and running, especially because they create a village sense of community for homeless people.

But new ideas to address homelessness may be a ways off.

"I don't want to put some of the people on the spot that are doing some very good thinking with me, " Krucky said. "But I have some ideas that when we get together and talk again, hopefully we'll be announcing some things that over the next couple of years that I think we can take great pride in."