Persistent callers waste limited resources

Confronting Homelessness

In the March 2017 column, I wrote about a woman, Ann (not her real name), who lived at the airport. The story is sad. The police and outreach workers were persistently being called and asked to take care of her. Despite addressing the calls, there was little anyone could do because Ann did not want help. She wanted to live at the airport.

Countless hours were spent by the Maui Police Department, outreach workers and other agencies and departments responding to appeals made by the public. This was an extreme waste of limited resources, and even when this was explained, the calls didn’t cease. They wanted her moved!

A similar scenario is now happening in Kihei with Jenny (not her real name). Jenny loves where she lives — it has an ocean view with beach access. The problem lies in the fact that her home is a public beach park.

Adding to this dilemma is the fact that Jenny was pregnant (she recently gave birth) and many folks were concerned for her and her baby’s safety. This concern prompted innumerable calls to MPD, Department of Health, Department of Housing and Human Concerns, Mental Health Kokua, Ka Hale A Ke Ola and Family Life Center, just to name a few.

Over 100 hours have been logged responding to these calls. Again, a waste of limited resources, but the police and outreach workers need to respond to each call. My hope is that those who are reading this are among those callers.

Folks, even if it is not readily visible, the agencies and departments do compassionately respond to Jenny’s needs and have been doing so since Jenny first appeared on the island. Confidentiality and civil right issues prevent organizations and government departments from revealing what is being done for each individual, but keep in mind this is their job and their mission. Please don’t assume that nothing is being done.

Jenny simply wants to be left alone to live where she is. Not everyone wants help or a home with walls. However, outreach workers continue to visit and offer help, believing that eventually even Jenny will want to live in the safety of a home.

I remember when Mayor Alan Arakawa was asked: “Why don’t you just round up the homeless and put them in a camp in the sugar cane fields?” Mayor Arakawa responded with, “Our laws do not permit us to simply ’round up’ people simply for being houseless. The last time that happened in our country some of my own family members were placed in internment camps — and that is a chapter of our nation’s history I would definitely not want to see repeated.

“Rather, we are working as a partnership with other government agencies and nonprofits to offer services to homeless individuals and families who need help and working with police to enforce laws when homeless individuals cause safety and health issues.”

On Maui, we have the Maui Homeless Alliance, which is a remarkable coalition of government agencies and nonprofits doing amazing but difficult work to alleviate homelessness, often at great sacrifice. The work is difficult and needs the support of the community. In the last two years, we have seen a 25 percent decrease in homelessness on Maui with over 1,200 people being placed into permanent housing. Let’s applaud those who are doing this vital work and support these efforts.

It’s disheartening to read or hear angry words that make accusations that nothing is being done about the homeless — especially since this is far from the truth. This is particularly discouraging when people like myself and others work hard to help our community to the best of our ability.

Homelessness is a worldwide problem that is not yet solved. On Maui, homelessness would be much worse if it wasn’t for the efforts of the Maui Homeless Alliance.

* 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. “Confronting Homelessness” runs on the fourth Friday of each month.

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