Legislature seeks to tap homeless FAS migrants to fill labor gap
The Guam legislature is seeking to tap the unemployed migrants from freely associated states — who account for nearly 50 percent of the territory’s homeless population — to fill the labor gap on island.
“I would like to state for the record that in no way are we asking to deport these individuals who have no means of supporting themselves,” Speaker Tina Muna-Barnes said in a letter to Douglas Domenech, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
According to the recently released 2018 Guam Homeless Point in Time Count report, FAS citizens account for 47 percent of the homeless population on Guam, followed by Chamorro at 40 percent.
The 2018 PIT Count found a total of 265 households with a combined total of 854 adults and children. The 2018 count, which was pretty much the same as the 2017 figure, gave Guam the distinction of having the second highest rate of homeless among U.S. territories.
The homeless FAS citizens are from Chuuk, Pohnpei, Yap, Kosrae and Palau. “The chronically homeless population on Guam continues to consist primarily of Chamorros from Guam and Chuukese ethnicities. Since 2017, the number of identified chronically homeless individuals has decreased by 40 percent. In that same period, the number of persons in chronically homeless families has increased by 23 percent,” the PIT report said.
Muna Barnes is seeking an open dialogue with the federal government to “figure out the best way address the issue at hand.”
“While we petition for exemptions to H-2B restrictions to augment the labor shortage for the anticipated build-up, we think we should also look at the approach of finding ways to develop the local labor force,” stated the letter, which was also signed by Sens. Amanda Shelton, Pedo Terlaje and Clynt Ridgell.
The 2018 survey found that a majority of those who are homeless reported that the barriers to seeking employment are due to lack of transportation, child-care, education, health conditions, lack of job skills and lack of cash to pay for court and police clearances.
“With the right support, I think we can tackle bot the issues of homelessness and labor shortage together and find a long-term solution,” Muna Barnes said.
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Last week, the Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority announced a recent collaboration between GHURA, the Governor’s Office and the State of Hawaii on matters involving housing and homelessness.
Lt. Governor Josh Green of Hawaii, Lt. Gov. Josh Tenorio and GHURA Executive Director Ray Topasna held a series of meetings involving state officials, non-profit partners, and tours of homeless camps and innovative affordable housing models.
Both Guam and Hawaii face similar challenges in a sense that much of our homeless population are FAS citizens.
Green shared with Guam officials his 10-point plan to deal with Hawaii’s chronic homeless problem which includes lift zones, transitional shelters, medical treatment, joint outreach centers and permanent housing.
The 2019 Homeless Point-in-Time Count for Hawaii showed that the total number of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons declined by 42 persons to 4,453 (compared to 2018), which is an indication that some of their initiatives may be working.
According to a press release from the governor’s office, Tenorio and GHURA Executive Director Topasna also met with officials from the Department of Human Services, the Hawaii Health & Harm Reduction Center, and the Institute for Human Services. They also visited Kahauiki Village — a groundbreaking initiative to create affordable communities for homeless families — and interacted with homeless families at the Kakaako Gateway Park which is a homeless camp in the heart of Honolulu.
“One of the takeaways from this trip is the innovative affordable housing model homes at the Kahauiki Village. This initiative alone takes dozens of families off the streets for longer terms versus the shorter periods involved with transitional shelters,” Tenorio said. “Guam offers some great affordable housing programs but we clearly must do more to assist our homeless population with shelter or affordable housing.”
The 2018 count shows a decline from more than 1,000 in 2015.
Last year’s PIT count report noted, “One factor contributing to the decrease in 2017 is a change in the definition of who is not to be included in the PIT Count. The changes exclude individuals residing in permanent supportive housing projects in locations not listed on the Homeless Inventory Count, or in housing legitimately rented or owned, including rental housing with Rapid Re-Housing assistance.”