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Organizations to assist the homeless avoid legal problems


HONOLULU – Gov. David Ige emphasized collaboration today as he announced the launch of a pilot program called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), which aims to improve public safety and reduce criminal activity in Downtown Honolulu and Chinatown.

The pilot is funded by the Hawai‘i Department of Health — Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division and involves a partnership between more than 30 community organizations.

“Government cannot resolve homelessness on its own,” Gov. Ige said. “The LEAD pilot program will strengthen the bonds of trust and understanding between law enforcement and the most vulnerable members of our community.”

Law enforcement agencies, including the Honolulu Police Department and the Department of Public Safety, will refer low-level, non-victim offenders to The CHOW Project and Life Foundation. They are contracted by the DOH to run the LEAD program, with support from the Governor’s Coordinator on Homelessness.

The CHOW Project and Life Foundation will work with the LEAD coalition of social service providers to offer housing, substance abuse treatment, and other services.

“LEAD will close the gaps in our homeless and substance abuse treatment systems by quickly diverting appropriate people from public safety to much-needed behavioral health and homeless services,” said Heather Lusk, Executive Director of The CHOW Project and Life Foundation. LEAD will ensure that service providers respond to referrals from law enforcement within 30 minutes, Lusk said.

LEAD will provide law enforcement officials with additional options to offer homeless individuals an alternative to arrest or citation. The program is Hawai‘i’s first pre-arrest or pre-booking diversion program. Existing programs divert individuals already in the criminal justice system, while LEAD engages homeless individuals and others before they are charged.

The LEAD pilot is based on a pilot project launched in Seattle in 2011. The results of the Seattle pilot showed that LEAD participants were 60 percent less likely to be arrested compared with non-participants. Also, 55 percent received drug treatment through LEAD, and while 82 percent were homeless prior to participation — 40 percent found housing as a result of the program.

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