MEO working to eliminate poverty

Maui Economic Opportunity Inc., chartered on March 22, 1965, is a private, nonprofit Community Action Agency. In 2015 we will be celebrating our 50th anniversary serving Maui County.

The agency was organized as a Community Action Agency under the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 to strengthen and coordinate efforts to eliminate poverty by providing opportunities in education, employment and training, transportation and other areas to help people help themselves.

The agency’s mission is to strengthen the community while helping people in need restore their hope, reach their potential and enrich their lives. As such, MEO regularly conducts a community needs assessment to identify the needs of individuals in Maui County.

Here are a few findings from our 2014 needs assessment that can help spur us to take action.

Maui County demographics show that the population has experienced its largest increase in the past seven years; 42.8 percent of the county’s residents are between the ages of 45 to 65, which will continue to place an increased demand on services for seniors, including human service transportation; 36.24 percent of the 51,281 Maui County households had children under the age of 18 living with them, and with this high percentage of families the demand for quality child care and education as well as prevention education and awareness will continue. Additionally, the Hispanic population has reached 10.10 percent of the total county population, thereby indicating a continued need for acculturation support.

According to the Department of Public Safety, Native Hawaiians (part or full) comprise 41.2 percent of the state prison population while they make up 28 percent of the state’s 1.2 million residents. In a recent report conducted by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, it has been stated that, since 1977, the number of people incarcerated in Hawaii has increased more than 900 percent – from 398 people in prison in that year to 4,304 people sentenced to one year or more in prison in 2008. Comparatively, nationwide, incarceration increased 262 percent during the same period. Based on these statistics it is apparent that reintegration programs are needed to successfully bring former inmates back into the community, particularly those that serve Native Hawaiians.

With an declining but stubborn unemployment rate, supportive services such as pre-employment training, financial literacy and job placement will continue to be vital to assist high-needs clients in unsubsidized employment.

The median value for a single-family home was $499,200, with 58.8 percent of the population owning a home. There is an average of 3.12 people in each owned household and 2.56 in each rental. Nearly half of all renters pay 35 percent or more of their total income on rent. Seventy percent of the more than 19,000 rental units cost between $1,200 and $1,800 per month.

The per capita income is $29,180, and 8.9 percent of the population is below the poverty level. One in every five individuals works two or more jobs to make ends meet. Fifty years ago, the poverty population was heavily weighted toward seniors. Today it is our children.

With the high cost of rent, utilities, food, etc., individuals who incur an unexpected expense such as a medical bill, car repair or some other expense will continue to struggle with paying rent and utility bills. Rental assistance is a critical need to help individuals get back on their feet and should be increased.

Please contact MEO at 249-2990 and join in the effort to serve our low- and moderate-income families and work together to end poverty in Maui County.

* Lyn McNeff is the chief executive officer of Maui Economic Opportunity Inc.