Resolving homeless issues requires teamwork

Confronting Homelessness

Not everyone knows how much work has been done and continues to be done to resolve the homeless issues on Maui. There are many components and organizations making a huge impact in the Maui homeless efforts and it is the Maui County Department of Housing and Human Concerns that drives these efforts forward by doing everything possible to ensure that the less fortunate and most vulnerable on our island are cared for.

Even though they don’t want accolades or recognition, I truly believe that it is Director Carol Reimann and Deputy Director Jan Shishido who have kept Housing First moving forward. They are unwavering in their efforts, making a strong emphasis on education and training, which is why so much has been successfully done and will continue to be done on Maui. I am personally very thankful that they and the Maui County government continue to make homelessness an agenda priority.

Serving the homeless is a difficult and tiresome task. Moving forward with Housing First requires courageous, passionate and adaptable leaders — leaders willing to re-examine, modify and change procedures when current organizational methods (however good) are not achieving the desired goal of ending homelessness. Change is never easy and always meets resistance but is usually well worth the effort.

For change to be successful there needs to be a great deal of planning as well as training from tried-and-true sources. Maui has reaped the benefit of many seminars, but Iain De Jong, president and CEO of OrgCode, taught my favorites. De Jong teaches Housing First implementation and its many facets. He and his team have worked at and coached many programs that have seen amazing success in the alleviation of homelessness. This makes him and OrgCode an invaluable resource for Maui. (Go to for more information.)

Seminars taught by De Jong have influenced the Homeless Alliance and government organizations to move from working in their own silos to working on a shared and united vision — a vision that encourages working in unity for the greater good of ending homelessness on Maui.

I was recently talking to David Nakama, the DHHC Maui Homeless Program coordinator, and he emphasized that ending homelessness will take a collaborative, concerted effort. He citied a recent meeting with key community leaders that included homeless case managers, homeless housing and shelter organizations, Maui Police Department, Public Works Department, Parks Department and Veterans Affairs, as well as mental health organizations such as Mental Health Kokua and Steadfast Housing.

At this meeting, these key leaders collectively started working on a plan, a plan that allows them to pool resources and work as a team to find better ways to make housing available to those who, in the past, were impossible to house. You probably know whom they’re talking about, often called the hard-core or chronically homeless, most of whom are the most vulnerable in the community due to mental health ailments, addiction disorders or physical disabilities.

This collaborative effort is enabling a compassionate response for both the community and for the homeless. Responders are now aware of more viable solutions since they are no longer working alone but are part of a larger team. Now when cleanups are required on streets, beaches or homeless encampments, those considered difficult to house will be offered alternate solutions so that they won’t need to just keep moving on to another street or beach.

Recently, several chronically homeless have been placed in permanent homes on Maui. It is these success stories that demonstrate that moving away from the temporary shelter model and moving to Housing First is working and needs to continue to grow and improve. Now with many involved and working as a team, we can anticipate a time in the near future when those who are living on the streets and beaches will be living in the safety of a home.

* Joyce Kawakami is a full-time volunteer, founder and CEO 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, 99 Mahalani St. in Wailuku. To participate call (808) 242-4900.