Investing in Hawaii’s Future: The Case for Supporting IHS’ Vital Community Services

Investing in Hawaii’s Future: The Case for Supporting IHS’ Vital Community Services

What would happen if vital community support systems disappeared overnight? As a society, we often overlook the role played by community organizations in anchoring our social safety net. 

Without them, countless vulnerable individuals would slip through the cracks, their basic needs unmet and their potential unrealized. On Oahu, The Institute for Human Services (IHS) serves as an “anchor service system” – providing comprehensive services, particularly for vulnerable groups lacking access to care.

How Re-housing Saves Lives and Taxpayer Dollars

One of IHS’ primary goals is to eliminate barriers that may prevent low-income households from finding and retaining affordable rental housing. We accomplish this through a compassionate, tailored approach to rehousing that creates stability and fosters self-reliance among our clients. 

Our Rapid Re-Housing Program allows us to move individuals and families experiencing homelessness into permanent housing quickly. This program provides them with:

• Assistance in identifying affordable housing options and liaising with landlords
• Financial assistance for deposits, rent, and utilities
• Case management connecting households with community resources to increase self-sufficiency
• Support services facilitating access to transportation, employment, education and health services

Our Homeless Prevention efforts help people facing eviction remain in their homes by assisting with back rent.  

• We offer up to three months of rental/utility assistance to households facing eviction, along with case management for an additional year.
• But we also teach people how to avoid a similar situation in the future by educating them about financial management, increasing household income and considering how a savings account can help with future emergencies.

From a financial perspective, IHS’ programs provide significant cost savings across emergency medical services and hospital stays – ultimately benefiting taxpayers. 

• For every emergency room visit avoided because of safe shelter or housing, IHS saves the system at least $2,500.
• For every person who enters medical respite for four weeks instead of being in the hospital, IHS saves the system about $80,000.
• And in the three years through COVID pandemic to the end of 2023, we prevented homelessness for over 2,497 individuals with the average amount in assistance provided per household totaling around $4,397.52. Had they become homeless, it could have likely cost the system far more in shelter and homeless support services.

Employment as a Pathway Out of Poverty

By providing employment training and support, IHS aids individuals not only in gaining work but also contributes to the local economy by increasing employability and consumer spending. 

• Through our Employment Services program, Hele2Work (H2W), we help people who are homeless or at-risk for homelessness to get workforce ready with these services: free business attire, resume writing, interview skills, referral to child care services, transportation help, budgeting courses, and skill development.
• We also provide hands-on vocational training in aquaponic farming and facilities maintenance. Trainees earn pay while learning skills applicable to Hawaii’s agriculture, hospitality and property management sectors. Employer partners connect us with current openings, collaborating to remove barriers for successful hiring and retention.
• Job coaches also provide ongoing support for clients as they transition to a new job, increasing job retention and success. We also have provider partnerships, where providers assist clients in attaining employment and providers reach out for our help with their employees, together we work to remove barriers to success. Our team works to fill the gaps so that each client may secure and maintain employment.
• Beyond benefiting families, our urban agriculture job skills program actively promotes food security through workforce development in farming and landscaping for hospitality and tourism sectors. Apprentices learn to support community needs aligned with Hawaii’s values. This lifts households out of reliance on aid while preserving culture.

With the average newly employed person earning at least $30,000 annually, our programmatic offerings can help generate over $2.4 million in income for previously unemployed individuals – money directly reinvested into our local economy that can support businesses who need workers while adding to State taxes collected. 

Improving Wellbeing Through Outreach

IHS’ comprehensive approach to homelessness includes medical and psychiatric care. This contributes to improvements in Hawaii’s public health, reduces the spread of communicable diseases, and mitigates health crises among our homeless population. Our outreach efforts meet people where they are, geographically and emotionally, to offer aid.

• Through pop-up service fairs across Oahu, IHS outreach specialists partner with a variety of service providers to offer support for those struggling with mental health or substance use disorders. Typically, initial aid comes in the form of hot meals, showers, clothes and employment opportunities. These events distribute aid island-wide, from North Shore towns to Windward communities to the streets of Waikiki.
• Teams also take to streets at night at times, searching out those who remain unseen in daylight. IHS case workers are often their only source of help, information, and referrals to medical care and other critical services.
• Since 2017, IHS has run a street psychiatry program that supports chronically homeless individuals so afflicted by severe mental illness they cannot safely care for themselves, and sometimes even pose a danger to those around them. We bring psychiatric expertise and treatment to diagnose and treat schizophrenia and related conditions, while also supplying lifesaving prescriptions and urgently needed health interventions.
• At times, there are individuals who are so lost in their mental illness or substance use disorders that they’ve lost their cognitive function and ability to care for themselves. Through our Assisted Community Treatment program, we advocate for many of these individuals in the courts to ensure access to safe, doctor-prescribed treatment to help manage these illnesses and get the affected individuals to a place of stability where a new future is possible.

By proactively identifying health issues and preventing escalation into crises, IHS preserves the dignity of our most vulnerable, while making our entire community safer. 

The Case for Investing in Our Collective Future 

Unfortunately, our programs attract fewer commercially insured patients, rely heavily on public funding, and operate on grants which augment that funding. Similar to other anchor health systems around the nation, IHS receives just a fraction of public investment. Despite these challenges, IHS has served as a beacon of hope for over four decades now, guiding individuals from the shadows of homelessness to the light of self-sufficiency and community integration. 

As an organization, we embody the spirit of ‘ohana and kuleana, nurturing those in need while training the next generation of compassionate caregivers. The impact of this work extends far beyond the number of individuals we serve. By empowering people to lift themselves out of homelessness and poverty, IHS strengthens the foundation of entire communities. This is the essence of an anchor service system: providing vital, specialized services, training caregivers, and leading during times of hardship. 

Now, as we rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic in the face of mounting health, housing, and employment crises, we find ourselves at a crossroads with our community. We need the people of Hawaii to link arms with us like never before. Even small acts of generosity, whether in the form of money donated or time volunteered, can help provide hope and stability for local families struggling to get back on their feet. 

Support for IHS is not just an investment in an organization. It is a down payment on the future health of our shared island home. 

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