By Allison Schaefers
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Published: June 12, 2013
HONOLULU — Sgt. 1st Class Maurice Smith, an Army journalist stationed at Fort Shafter, was on a rescue mission Tuesday to save his fallen comrades — the many homeless veterans who call Hawaii streets their home.
“It’s tough being on the street,” said Smith, who spent two years of his youth homeless in Philadelphia with his single mother and two siblings. “But I remember some people that we encountered were very genuine and sincere in their efforts to help us. Now I’m building it forward.”
Smith was one of about 250 active-duty military personnel from U.S. Army Pacific who teamed up with military and homeless service providers to comb Waikiki, Diamond Head, Kakaako Park, Chinatown and Iwilei for homeless vets.
During the one-day mobile outreach, staff from the Waikiki Health Center, US Vets, the West Oahu Vet Center, the Institute for Human Services and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provided services such as medical and mental screenings, information on veteran benefits, enrollment services and assistance with claims.
While the number of homeless veterans has been declining nationally, it has risen on Oahu in each of the past three years, according to “point-in-time” counts of homeless people on Oahu.
The latest count, conducted Jan. 22, tallied 398 homeless veterans on Oahu. That is 8.4 percent more than in 2012 and 34.5 percent more than in 2010. Homeless veterans accounted for nearly 9 percent of the 4,556 homeless people who were counted across Oahu this year.
“We were surprised to see a little increase,” said Darryl Vincent, chief operating officer of US Vets and chairman of Partners in Care — Oahu’s Continuum of Care, which oversaw the count, a requirement for getting funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “But it’s probably the result of the war winding down and more service members getting out of the military or coming back from duty with issues and falling into homelessness.”