A program that sends some of Hawaii’s homeless back to where they came from is up for vote again. It’s been around since 2015 with the Hawaii Tourism and Lodging Association, the state matching it since 2018.

The HTLA has worked with non-profits on Oahu, Kauai, and Maui so far to relocate some of the 6,448 accounted for homeless in Hawaii. Only 8 percent or 516 of those are transplants, but the relocation program has taken a big dent out of that population.

“744 individuals have gone back. Less than 16 have returned overall. That’s less than 2 percent.” said HTLA CEO Mufi Hannemann.

How they get to Hawaii in the first place is mostly unknown and difficult for surveyors to account.

States sending their homeless to Hawaii to live is an often told urban myth. New York City was the first to confirm these rumors when it sent a family here, the story making headlines back in October.

At the time state representative, John Mizuno was so frustrated that he sent a letter to the United States Department of Justice. They didn’t respond to him.

“A big no. No, they did not.” Mizuno said.

The returns for transplants are funded halfway by taxpayers through the HTLA and non-profits.

“To also have them put skin in the game, you want the family or receiving friend or whatever they came from to be able to put up the other half of the travel funds for them to go back,” Hannemann said.

The state has tracking processes to ensure that the program isn’t being abused for a discounted vacation.

“I really believe that those individuals that have been able to take advantage of the program I think it will flash up pretty quickly on the radar screen if they’re back,” Hannemann said.

The hope is to find a non-profit partner on Hawaii Island to bring the program there, where 869 homeless people are accounted for.

“That’s going to be one of our major objectives,” Hannemann said.

“We know Lieutenant Governor Green was a Hawaii Island senator he said this process of sending them back through repatriation does work. So we’d like to find a partner like we did on Oahu with IHS.”

Only a small portion of the 1.5 million dollar appropriation of the bill is used to relocate, with non-profits using most of it for other programs. The ball passed it’s first reading and is being sent to committee.