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In many cities and towns across the U.S., homelessness has arisen as a prominent and difficult problem to address (Quigley, Raphael, & Smolensky, 2001). It has become a public health and humanitarian concern at both the national level and at the state level in Hawai‘i. The recent Homeless Service Utilization Report for Hawai‘i State, which tracks administrative data related to homeless service usage across the state, shows that the number of homeless individuals in Hawai‘i has steadily grown since 2007, with a record 14,954 individuals receiving services in the last fiscal year (Yuan, Vo, Gleason, & Azuma, 2016). Hawai‘i is not alone in facing sustained rates of homelessness despite efforts to address the problem. In fact, across the nation homelessness has been a fairly intractable issue, defying simple programmatic and policy solutions (Culhane, Park, & Metraux, 2011; Lee, Tyler, & Wright, 2010). However, while patterns and predictors of homelessness in Hawai‘i likely share some similarities with those in other states across the nation, the unique geographic, historical, and cultural setting of the state may result in important differences in homeless experiences in the islands.

The overarching goal of this project was to explore and understand patterns of homeless service usage in the unique setting of Hawai‘i. In order to examine homeless experiences from multiple angles and perspectives, the study was designed in three overlapping, interactive stages. Stage 1 of the project began by looking to homeless service providers and homeless service users to describe their knowledge and observations about experiences of homelessness in the state. To do this we used semi-structured qualitative interviews to talk with nine service providers and nine service users from O‘ahu, Maui, and Hawai‘i Islands. This stage of the project was based on the idea that it is important to consider the perspectives of those with “on the ground” knowledge of homelessness (Jason, Keys, Suarez-Balcazar, Taylor, & Davis, 2004).

In addition to the qualitative interviews, a large dataset of administrative service usage information was analyzed to determine if there were statistically distinct and meaningfully identifiable patterns of service usage in the state (Stage 2). The results of that analysis are presented in Part II of the Report to Stakeholders. Finally, Stage 3 circled back to focusing on the importance of lived experiences by giving the original Stage interviewees the opportunity to review and comment on preliminary results from both Stage 1 and Stage 2. This feedback stage helped to ensure that the results detailed here line up with the real world knowledge of these experts, those whose daily lives are impacted by homelessness.

This Part I report focuses on the content from the Stage 1 participant interviews, mentioning feedback from the Stage 3 interviews where appropriate. Too often when homeless programs and policies are discussed we do not hear the voices of those who have experienced homelessness firsthand (Lee et al., 2010). Therefore, this report focuses on highlighting those voices and on detailing the rich description and nuanced discussions provided in the participant interviews.

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