• By Alex Rhowuniong

Council seeks to shelter Guam's homeless during Covid-19 pandemic

Lt. Gov. Josh Tenorio on Thursday announced the reconstitution of the Guam Interagency Council for coordinating homelessness programs on Guam.

The council, s originally established by former governor Felix Camacho, seeks to “end or reduce” the challenge of homelessness on Guam with a 10-year plan.

Under the new directive, the Office of Homelessness Assistance and Poverty Prevention (OHAPP) under the Guam’s Mayors Council has also been created. Through the reconstituted Interagency Council and OHAPP, the government of Guam seeks to provide shelter and protection for the island’s homeless families and individuals during this Covid-19 public health emergency.

“Homelessness has become a significant challenge in Guam affecting hundreds of residents. Numerous unsheltered homeless individuals and families are at risk of exposure to Covid-19 and other diseases, inclement weather, and victimization; the challenge of homelessness is complex and multi-faceted,” states Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero's executive order.

Lt. Gov. Josh Tenorio

A multi-year funding stream for the OHAPP will come from the Department of Interior's $1.5 million grant, according to Tenorio, chair of the the Interagency Council.

One-third of the fund will go to the operation budget while the bulk will go to stipend programs for the office.

Meanwhile, “shelters, transitional housings and paths for permanent housing for homeless individuals and families will be established once the public health emergency has ended,” the order also stated.

Tenorio said homelessness is a very complicated, but a “very important issue” for Guam right now. He said he will call a meeting on a weekly basis, every Thursdays, at 11 a.m.

“I’m looking forward to making some gradual progress, and important decisions as we go down this path,” Tenorio said.

When asked about what’s been accomplished in the past with the 2007 Interagency Council, Tenorio said the Clearinghouse Office will try to locate any report and recommendations from the past council.

“I can tell you though,” Tenorio said, “that this executive order pretty much laid the foundation and framework in which the civic society came together for the (Guam) Homeless Coalition.”

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Today, the latest homeless count on Guam has reached 875, according to Point-In-Time (PIT) Homeless Count, a yearly Guam Homeless Coalition project.

Of this number, there are:

*Total Family Households Experiencing Homelessness: 112

*Veterans Experiencing Homelessness: 23

*Persons Experiencing Chronic Homelessness: 84, and;

*Unaccompanied Young Adults (Aged 18-24) Experiencing Homelessness: 14

A May 2017 article by Isabella Alvia published in Triton’s Call, the University of Guam’s newspaper, provided a snapshot of what homelessness on Guam has been like over the years:

In 2007 the Guam homeless count recorded 725.

* But in 2009, the count shot up to 1,088

*In 2010, it climbed even more to a staggering 1,635

* In 2011, the number peaked at whopping 1,745

* And began its descend in 2012, dropping to 1,301

* In 2013, it dipped further down to 1,271

* But 2014 saw a surge, at 1,356

*And started descending again in 2015, to 1,280

*In 2016, it dove down to 973

* And dropped even further in 2018 to 854

* Finally, two years later today, it’s climbing up again by 21 counts.

Sinajana Mayor Robert Hofmann said when dealing with homelessness at the various mayors offices, one of the issues village mayors discuss is the challenge of residency verification, especially when they don’t know where homeless individuals lived before coming in for help.

And their offices’ inability to help has become barriers for homeless individuals to get identification card, which in turn becomes hurdles for them getting employment or other benefits.

“So we realize we do play a role in this,” Hofmann said. “We realize there are people and families on the brink of getting homeless, and we’re trying to do everything we can on our ends as local leaders. So, we appreciate the administration and everyone here and their willingness to step-up and help us deliver that service.

“We’re excited about having the office, and we’re already getting calls.”

“I am hopeful that with the Guam ID, the legislation that Sen. Mary Camacho Torres authored (Bill 378) will be able to help determine and obtain qualifications, for at least the locally funded programs, as we get their original documents, establish or reconfirm their identities and get them on a path to see whether or not they can get into some of the federal programs,” Tenorio said.

Torres' Bill 378-35 would allow residents aged 65 years or older to obtain a non-expiring Guam identification card. The Department of Revenue and Taxation currently requires that ID cards be renewed every eight years.

While valid identification is necessary to access basic services and benefits, the renewal process can be burdensome for older residents due to health issues, lack of mobility or transportation, or difficulty locating primary documents. Recognizing this challenge, several states provide a lifetime card for their senior citizens--allowing them to maintain adequate, government-issued identification.

Under Bill 378, the lifetime card would be non-REAL ID compliant, with a “non-expiring” notation placed on the card. The same fees and documentation required by DRT for a standard Guam ID card would apply.

“Bill 378 is a common-sense measure for older residents who need a basic ID card to carry out everyday tasks,” Torres said. “Given the prevalence of fraud and elderly identity theft, we should do everything we can to ensure our manåmko' possess official identification without the worry of maintaining it.”

Torres’ proposal would go into effect thirty days after becoming law.

“There has been tremendous amount work and progress that has been done by the (Guam) Homeless Coalition which we appreciate. And this efforts, by the way, is to step up and coordinate the government’s response and partnership with nonprofit sectors.”

Dr. Margaret Hattori Ujima, a member of the GHC, said the coalition has been advocating the reconstitution of the council.

“So, this is perfect timing, and we really appreciate it,” she said.

Hofmann also said the OHAPP will complement the Guam Housing Corporation's tasks, including offering better chances for both organizations to get much need resources, like resource funding and bedding for fire victims for instance.

Two new categories of homelessness brought up at the meeting included pregnant mothers anticipating to become homeless by the time time they leave the hospital, and patients at the Guam Memorial Hospital and Guam Regional Medical City who are abandoned by families and relatives

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