Maui’s ‘hidden homeless’ live temporarily with others

Confronting Homelessness

A common phrase that is often used but isn’t often understood is the term “hidden homeless.” Just for clarification, I will be using this term to refer to people who live temporarily with others, those who are staying with relatives, friends, neighbors or others because they can’t afford to live in their own home.

They are considered to be “hidden” because they don’t have access to available homeless services even though they are improperly or inadequately housed. Unlike those who are homeless and living in the open and receiving these services, they are impossible to count through surveys or reports. They often sleep in tents in backyards, sleep in cars in driveways, or sleep on floors or sofas.

A few families or sometimes several families and/or individuals can be found in one house using one bathroom and one kitchen. They have an address and a place of residence, and because of this are not considered homeless.

At Feed My Sheep we have discovered through our records and surveys that approximately 55 percent of the people we serve are hidden homeless, which is approximately 1,750 people. A few days ago at the Kahului food distribution, I was talking with a friend (we don’t have clients, we have friends) who, along with six other families, lives at his parents’ home in Kahului. Jim (not his real name) has a wife and children, as does his fellow housemates. Both he and his wife are working but they have been unable to find a home that they can afford. He told me he loves Maui; this is his home. But he believes that for him to find a decent place for his family to live he should move to Las Vegas or Oregon.

When I think about Jim’s family and other families like his, I feel like crying. This is so extremely sad and depressing. The average housing prices on Maui are in the $700,000 range with three-bedroom homes renting for over $2,000. These exorbitant prices make it impossible for young Maui families to live on the island they love and grew up on.

We can all agree that there is a housing crisis on Maui and that we desperately need more housing, I do, however, believe that we are at the beginning stages of seeing a change. Recently, during the Maui County budget hearings, affordable housing, which included affordable rentals, was an important part of the discussion and planning, as is reflected in the adopted the fiscal year 2019 budget.

Another positive move is that several Maui nonprofits are working to make affordable housing available to Maui’s low-income residents. At a recent meeting, I was privileged to sit next to Suzie Thieman, executive director of Lokahi Pacific. I couldn’t help but notice her enthusiasm as she shared about a project that Lokahi completed earlier this year, where 16 affordable, single-family homes were built and sold to low-income Maui families. These homes were priced in the mid-$300,000 range and the families who purchased these homes were among the homeless and hidden homeless in our community.

These three-bedroom homes located in Happy Valley are a dream come true to approximately 75 people who never thought they could ever own a home of their own. Suzie shared how two of the families were previously living in homeless shelters and other families were of the hidden homeless community. With obvious pride, she told me how surprised she was to hear numerous fathers say to their children, “This is for, you kiddos!” Efforts like this are what will continue to make it possible for local people to stay on Maui.

We all know that many more housing projects are needed to make living on Maui affordable, but there are many more projects planned and with time and community support change can come — one family and one home at a time.

* 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 in Kahului. To participate call 242-4900.