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From homeless to homey, now that’s something to celebrate

Confronting Homelessness

Earlier this month, I attended a Christmas celebration at Family Life Center. If you are not familiar with FLC, it is a local nonprofit that operates an emergency shelter, as well as conducting outreach and case management to the houseless on Maui. I expected the usual nonprofit serving the poor event, but this Christmas party was a welcome surprise. I got to see true compassion in action as I witnessed a great example of many Maui residents, from all walks of life, coming together to celebrate Christmas and each other.

There were approximately 300 invited guests in attendance, along with over 100 volunteers and staff. Each adult guest received a beautiful gift consisting of a backpack and a pillow with handmade Hawaiian print pillow cases. The children all received a toy.

While I was watching, I appreciated that I couldn’t distinguish between the staff, the volunteers and the clients who were referred to as guests. All were family and friends enjoying a party together and everyone was treated to a restaurant style sit-down meal prepared and served by volunteers.

Live entertainment was provided for the duration of the party. There were community members and organizations (far too many to count) involved in making this celebration a success. Oh my goodness, it was wonderful and a lot of fun!

The thoughtfulness to detail and heartfelt compassion was impressive and as inspiring as this party was, I was overwhelmed when I discovered that over 200 of the invited guests were previously homeless but are now living in a home. They came to the party to celebrate their new, stable lifestyle with those who helped them get there. From homeless to housed, now that’s something to celebrate!

A story that completely amazed me was about Cheryl (not her real name). Cheryl is a veteran and a single mother of three who met the FLC staff when she stayed in the emergency shelter. Through the Housing First services provided by the center, Cheryl was able to find a home as well as services she needed to help her family live a better quality of life. What is wonderful about Cheryl’s story is — through the services and training she received — she was recently able to purchase her own home! I can’t help but wonder: Where would Cheryl and her children be if it weren’t for Family Life Center and Housing First?

Another amazing story I heard is about Ronald (not his real name). He is a young man that came to FLC for help. Ronald’s case manager explained to him that to thrive, he needed to get a job, but what most of us don’t realize is that getting a job isn’t that easy for some people. The problem was that Ronald had never worked prior and didn’t know how to go about getting a job or how to do the work if he did actually get a job.

This is the beauty of Housing First. He was put into a stable home and then received the training and services needed to succeed and become a productive member of the Maui community. Ronald now has a home, a job and a family. It’s hard to imagine, but he is now supporting his wife and five children.

At Feed My Sheep recently, John (not his real name) came to our Kahului food distribution. John has mental illness and because of this is unable earn a living. While talking with him, we discovered that he was recently moved from homelessness into the safety of a home provided by Family Life Center.

These stories exhibit the effectiveness of the Housing First model and demonstrate how that this model is successfully working on Maui! We are fortunate that many nonprofits, community organizations, government agencies and community minded individuals are diligently working together to eliminate homelessness through 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. The Alliance meets at noon on the third Wednesday of each month at Maui Economic Opportunity, 99 Mahalani St. in Wailuku.

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