Starting tonight, Mauians concerned about others who don't have food and shelter will rally along Kaahumanu Avenue to mark National Homeless Awareness Week.
On Friday, there will be a candlelight vigil, simultaneously with others across the state, at War Memorial Gym, to be followed by the second annual Stomp Out Hunger event at the War Memorial Soccer Field.
The goal of the Stomp is to raise $100,000 for Feed My Sheep, which distributes food weekly in Wailuku, Haiku, Lahaina, Honokowai, Kihei and Hana and wants to expand to Lanai. Scott Hopkins of Feed My Sheep said the first Stomp Out Hunger drive raised $54,000.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
Edwin Rita, maintenance supervisor for Hale Makana, looks over a vacant one-bedroom apartment Tuesday morning. Hale Makana is the transitional housing operated by Maui Economic Concerns of the Community adjacent to the homeless shelter Ka Hale A Ke Ola in Wailuku. Because of the lack of jobs or full-time jobs, Maui Economic Concerns is losing tenants who cannot afford even “affordable” rentals.
According to the Homeless Service Utilization Report, there were 1,115 people in homeless shelters in Maui County in the fiscal year ending July 1. The total number of homeless people is higher but not certain.
Lori Tsuhako, the county director of Housing and Human Concerns, said the latest count - taken on one night throughout the state - happened to fall on a rainy night, when many homeless were not in their "usual" abodes.
Rebecca Woods, the chief executive of Maui Economic Concerns of the Community, which runs the largest shelter in the state, Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Center, said her organization serves 800 people, so "it's much worse than that."
'For far too long, the public's image of homelessness is that of the 'chronic' homeless individual who panhandles for money, is possibly a substance abuser, and who seems unmotivated to work toward self-sufficiency. Those of us who work in the human services sector know that this image, while accurate for some, is not the true face of homelessness.'
- Feed My Sheep
Ironically, Maui Economic Concerns is for the first time experiencing vacancies in its affordable rentals at Hale Makana. Woods said that is because people are losing jobs or having their hours cut; they cannot afford even "affordable" rentals.
"They are moving back with their families" or, at least, out of her facility, she said.
As a result, although the homelessness problem is certainly worse, the waiting list at the Ka Hale shelter is 79 individuals and 23 families, which is "unusually low," said Woods.
Homelessness is a persistent problem on Maui. At one time, Ka Hale A Ke Ola and Hale Makana (its transitional rentals) housed 1 percent of all the homeless people living on the island.
It is less percentage wise now, but only because the total population has grown. In its early years, the shelter provided services to an overwhelmingly Native Hawaiian population, but Woods said that in recent years, the largest ethnic group is non-Hawaiian Pacific islands, followed by Hawaiians and Caucasians.
Ka Hale A Ke Ola does not simply provide a roof. It has a structured up-and-out program that trains people how to manage finances - not all homeless people are unemployed. The usual time to "graduate" is two years, said Woods.
Ka Hale A Ke Ola does not attempt to reach everyone. It has a strict illegal substances policy, which excludes some people, and it is unable to take the seriously mentally ill.
On Friday at 6 p.m., people wanting to express solidarity with the hungry and homeless are invited to the candlelight vigil, which will last half an hour.
From 6 to 10 p.m., Feed My Sheep, a faith-based nonprofit organization that provides mobile food distribution, will sponsor Stomp Out Hunger at the soccer field. Students and others will walk the track, some with sponsors, to raise money. There will be entertainment, rides, food booths and a silent auction.
For more info contact Pastor Jonavan Asato, the Stomp Out Hunger coordinator, at 276-2398 or visit the Web site www.feedmysheepmaui.com.
The theme for this year's National Homeless Awareness Week, which ends Saturday, is "Bringing America Home."
Other activities include the signing of a proclamation by Mayor Charmaine Tavares and a Health Fair for the Homeless sponsored by the Salvation Army and staffed by Maui Community College health studies volunteers at the Kahului Salvation Army offices on Kamehameha Avenue on Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
In its statement, Feed My Sheep said, "For far too long, the public's image of homelessness is that of the 'chronic' homeless individual who panhandles for money, is possibly a substance abuser, and who seems unmotivated to work toward self-sufficiency. Those of us who work in the human services sector know that this image, while accurate for some, is not the true face of homelessness.
"We know of many working families who earn minimum wages and who cannot afford to pay rent and utilities, and thus are compelled to live in their vehicles or in the backyards of family members, or who are forced to seek help in homeless shelters.
"We also know about the parents who struggle to meet their children's needs and who may go hungry in order that their children get fed. These are the true faces of Maui's hidden homeless."
Feed My Sheep is part of the Maui Homeless Alliance, a group of agencies and individuals that serve (either directly or indirectly) the homeless.
Tsuhako said that because of the faltering economy, "people are really struggling a lot, and the alliance works to provide a "continuum of care," because "we really have to have a coordinated effort to truly help."
* Harry Eagar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.