LEAD Homelessness Program Arrives in Kona

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When it comes to homelessness, Hawai‘i County isn’t trying to follow, it’s trying to LEAD.

Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD, has come to Hawaiʻi Island on the heels of early successes on Oʻahu and Maui, according to a Hawaiʻi state press release.

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.


“I am excited about the implementation of the LEAD program on Hawaiʻi Island and more specifically in West Hawaiʻi,” said Hawaiʻi Island Mayor Harry Kim. “I am so proud of our police officers and all others involved in this program.”

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.


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% 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.

“We are really excited to begin the LEAD program on Hawaiʻi Island,” said Dr. Hannah Preston-Pita, chief executive officer of BISAC. “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.

“BISAC and ADAD (the Hawaiʻi Department of Health’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division) have been planning this program for the last couple of months and now it’s finally here.”


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.

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