Honolulu (KHON2) – The pandemic has caused a rise in mental health concerns for Hawaii’s homeless community.

“The pandemic has been a stressful time for most members of the community,” says Scott Morishige, the Governor’s Coordinator on Homelessness. “For the general community, the pandemic has impacted the ability of individuals to gather socially, caused financial stress due to loss of employment or work hours, and have prevented people from participating in activities they typically take part in for stress relief.  Individuals in the homeless community experience all of these same impacts, as well as additional stress caused by the closure of public restrooms or other facilities, and the closure of places such as the public library or other public gathering spaces.”

In addition, the pandemic has been stressful for homeless service providers who serve on the front lines – working at emergency shelters, or going out in the street to continue to provide services even when the rest of the community was locked down.    

According to Morishige, “At the beginning of the pandemic, the State worked to reopen public restroom facilities on State lands.  For example, our Department of Land and Natural Resources opened up comfort stations at small boat harbors statewide, and partnered with community groups to keep these bathrooms open.  We also worked together with HIEMA, Department of Human Services, Department of Health and others to get Personal Protective Equipment, including masks, out to the houseless community, as well as to providers so that providers could continue their essential services. “

The State also worked to increase the flow of information for homeless service and behavioral health providers statewide by partnering with the Department of Health to conduct weekly zoom webinars to provide updates on the pandemic response.  

If you’re experiencing mental health challenges, there are a number of helpful resources available.    One key resource is the Hawaii CARES line, which is a 24-hour hotline that provides assistance with behavioral health resources for those experiencing mental illness or substance use.  This number is not only for individuals directly experiencing these issues, but  you can also call if you see someone else in need who may be struggling. 

There’s also Partners in Care, the local homeless coalition, which developed a crisis card with resources for domestic violence, mental health or parenting support. You can find this resource card at https://homelessness.hawaii.gov.

Help can be as simple as calling if you see someone in need, volunteering with an organization addressing homelessness (such as a shelter or outreach program) or welcoming a speaker on homelessness to engage with you and your community.  The “Get Involved” section features a list of 10 ways the community can help.   The website also includes a variety of resources, including the State plan to end homelessness, a daily emergency shelter vacancy list, a map of homeless outreach resources, and more.   You can also reach out to the Governor’s Homeless Coordinator by calling (808) 586-0193 or by e-mailing the following address: gov.homelessness@hawaii.gov