Hawaii Island to implement LEAD program to address homelessness

Local News

(Photo by Kat Wade/Getty Images)

Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) has come to Hawaiʻi Island on the heels of early successes on Oʻahu and Maui.

LEAD is an arrest diversion program implemented as an alternative to the normal criminal justice system cycle of booking, detention, prosecution, conviction and incarceration. Under the LEAD program model, law enforcement officers make contact with low-level nonviolent offenders or individuals at high risk of arrest and refer them into a trauma-informed intensive case-management program. There, the individual receives a wide range of support services, often including transitional and permanent housing and/or drug treatment. The original LEAD program began in Seattle in 2011 and has been replicated in 34 states.

The pilot project, which received $650,000 in ʻOhana Zone funding from the State, launched Thursday in Kona. The Big Island Substance Abuse Council (BISAC) will operate the pilot project along with several key partners, including HOPE Services Hawaiʻi, Going Home Hawaiʻi and Bridge House. The Hawaiʻi County Police Department and Prosecutor’s Office are also on board with the project, which will initially operate only in Kona but may eventually expand across the island.

“The launch of Kona’s LEAD program represents another step forward in our effort to resolve homelessness,” said Gov. David Ige. “We are confident that LEAD will make a positive difference and improve the well-being of participants on Hawaiʻi Island, just as it has on Oʻahu and Maui.”

There are LEAD projects already operating on Oʻahu and Maui. Honolulu’s LEAD pilot began in July 2018, and a recent 1-year evaluation found that participants saw a 55 percent reduction in law enforcement citations, an increased feeling of wellness, and a decrease in meth use. Maui’s LEAD program began in May and its participants are already showing positive results. Kauaʻi LEAD just recently launched as well.

“With the lack of resources on our island, this program will definitely make a big impact. Our mayor, prosecuting attorney, chief of police and our local providers – Hope Services, Bridge House and Going Home – have been ready since day one to add this program as a resource,” said Dr. Hannah Preston-Pita, chief executive officer of BISAC.

In 2018, state legislators appropriated $30 million to establish at least three ʻOhana Zone sites on Oʻahu, and one each on Hawaiʻi Island, Maui and Kauaʻi.

The law requires that ʻOhana Zones be placed on state and county land and that those spaces provide services to assist homeless individuals and families in accessing permanent housing.

Other projects addressing homelessness are also in the pipeline for Hawaiʻi County. An assessment center at the Na Kahua Hale o Ulu Wini housing complex is expected to open by the end of the year, and the Village 9 affordable housing project and 20 units of permanent supportive housing at the newly opened Keolahou emergency shelter are scheduled to welcome residents in spring 2020.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories