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Homelessness and those who struggle to get back on track

By Staff | Feb 4, 2010

Michelle (Shelley) Watson, site director of Na Hale O Wainee, shows James Arruiza the childcare area during his tour of the facility. James was doing research for his Lahainaluna High School Senior Project on homelessness.

Words people would use to describe a homeless person include “sadness, pity, and unfortunate.” Homelessness isn’t a choice for many; it’s an obstacle they have to face. Major factors include losing a job, developing a serious illness such as drug or alcohol addiction, or getting involved with the criminal justice system. Sometimes it’s a matter of choosing whether or not to get help from a shelter before it is too late.

According to the Homeless Service Utilization Report of 2009, 1,115 people on Maui received shelter services, and 7,484 people statewide received shelter services. About one-third were comprised of minors ranging from infants to age 17. The largest ethnic group that received shelter services includes Hawaiians/Part-Hawaiians at 29 percent, followed by Caucasians and other Pacific Islanders at 24 percent.

“The current economic challenges have resulted in families struggling to afford their rent or mortgages,” said Lori Tsuhako, director of the county Department of Housing and Human Concerns. “When jobs are lost or hours are cut, families have less money to spend on housing and utilities.”

An example of a shelter service would be Aloha House located in Makawao. They provide a safe, sheltered environment along with medical care, entitlements, financial aid, rehabilitation referrals and continued education, such as to Maui Community College (MCC).

Aloha House also provides “clean and sober” housing for those who have completed substance abuse treatment and desire a structured environment to enhance their chances of remaining in recovery.

“We are highly successful with those who are motivated to improve their condition,” said Aloha House Chief Executive Officer Jud Cunningham. “But our programs are voluntary, so they must depend in part of the clients’ motivation to seek and sustain recovery.”

Along with Aloha House, Community Clinic of Maui, Family Life Center, Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Center and the Salvation Army are some of the other providers of services that deal with homelessness.

“What an average person should realize is that homelessness is not really a choice for most people who are homeless. Many of them have suffered a series of bad circumstances and would not choose to be homeless. Many working people are homeless. Students who go to school with you might be homeless through no fault of their own,” concluded Tsuhako.

Homelessness is a major problem in the community. It not only affects one person, but the community as a whole. Citizens of Hawaii should be aware that the homeless are individuals, members of our community, and in most circumstances want to work and contribute to our society. We need to treat them with respect and equality, and just give them a hand.

(James submitted this article to Lahaina News as part of his senior project at Lahainaluna High School.)