Unsung heroes quietly serve

Confronting Homelessness

In a time when so much in the world seems to be going wrong, I want to emphasize that we live on an amazing island. One that I am very proud to be part of. Here on Maui, we have many unsung heroes and I want to sing the praises of those who quietly live and serve, usually without anyone noticing.

Are you aware that on Maui we have community police officers? They are officers from the Maui Police Department that have been assigned to deal specifically with community issues such as homelessness. These men and women in uniform have quickly become my personal heroes.

They are the ones who are the first to respond to calls and complaints in regard to islandwide homelessness issues. They are the ones who are on location when beaches and camps are cleaned, making it safe for all of us. Even though they often need to ask the homeless and illegal campers to move on, they do so with a compassion and caring that goes far beyond their expected duties!

I am astounded by the empathy they show and the kindness portrayed by these men and women in blue and find it heartwarming to see how much they truly care about the people they serve. They do the job that most of us would never do and they do their job with excellence.

These officers know each homeless and transient person by name. They treat each individual with the kind of respect that restores dignity. I’ve heard stories about how some officers go so far as to give a ride to the Family Life Center just to make sure that these individuals have the opportunity to receive the help they need finding a home. They are known to work closely with caseworkers and outreach workers from local nonprofits while they tirelessly help individuals find the resources they need.

I am also in awe of the outreach workers from Family Life Center and Salvation Army. Most people have no idea how dedicated these men and women are or understand how they continually reach out (day and night) to the homeless.

Last week I had just finished work and I was driving through the Kahului Industrial Area. It was there I saw Dawn, an outreach worker from Family Life Center. She didn’t know I was watching as she was talking to a group of people living there. She was amazing. I watched as she was talking story and laughing with her friends, friends who just happened to live on the street.

Did you know that these folks are people just like you and me and they need to know that there are people like Dawn who care about them? This is the first step to helping them find a permanent home. While most of us are enjoying our dinner at home, the outreach workers with the community police officers are reaching out to the homeless. These are the true heroes of our Maui community!

It’s worth reiterating: I am moved with pride by the compassion shown through our Maui community and realize that it is this compassion that causes so many residents to be worried about the homeless who live here. For all concerned, please be assured that on Maui the needs of the homeless are not being ignored.

Fortunately there is an alliance of government representatives, police officers, social service agencies and concerned citizens who are working together and finding solutions for the homeless. This alliance has made it possible for many to find a home. To participate, call Scott Dixon at 242-4900 for information.

The Maui Homeless Alliance is currently implementing Housing First, which includes rapid rehousing with coordinated services. And you can help. We still need more housing and we still need more people who are willing to work collaboratively in support of the ongoing homelessness plans and programs.

* Joyce Kawakami is a full-time volunteer, founder and chief executive officer of Feed My Sheep Inc. As an active member of the Maui Homeless Alliance, she chairs the Awareness Committee. The alliance meets on the third Wednesday of each month at Maui Economic Opportunity Inc. at the Cameron Center, 99 Mahalani St. in Wailuku.