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Caring for the homeless during the pandemic

By BY CINDY SCHUMACHER - | May 7, 2020

Monique Yamashita, Ka Hale A Ke Ola CEO, explains the COVID-19 precautions being taken at their Lahaina and Wailuku facilities.

LAHAINA – Monique Yamashita, executive director of Ka Hale A Ke Ola (KHAKO) Homeless Resource Centers Inc., has over 15 years of social service experience in Maui County.

KHAKO, a comprehensive resource center that provides emergency and transitional shelter, adult education and training, counseling, a primary care medical clinic and facilities for childcare, is dedicated to serving the needs of the homeless and hungry on Maui. The staff helps guests find permanent housing, empowers them to take responsibility for their own lives and calls on the community to assist in these actions.

Currently, as executive director of two homeless shelters, one in Wailuku and one in Lahaina, Yamashita has developed emergency COVID-19 protocols to ensure the safety of the clients and staff.

A strict COVID-19 Prevention Action Plan was put in place on March 13, before any cases were reported on Maui. Recently, however, a guest who spent time in Maui Memorial Medical Center, where the COVID cluster took place, tested positive for the virus. The guest was immediately put in quarantine off-campus.

“The health, safety and welfare of those individuals and families utilizing services at KHAKO is of the utmost importance to ensure the safety and well-being of all,” Yamashita said. “The COVID-19 virus has the potential to adversely affect the community, and KHAKO is taking this threat very seriously. Our shelters are putting great emphasis on processes and procedures that support the most rigorous standard possible to reduce the likelihood of spreading any infectious disease.”

Yamashita wants the community to know that with all of the COVID-19 concerns, KHAKO is still in operation, bringing in new families and individuals who are experiencing homelessness as well as working with current clients to assist them with obtaining permanent housing.

“While the world may be at a standstill, life carries on at our shelters, and we are still working to end the cycle of homelessness,” she said. “On any given day, our KHAKO staff works to create stability in lives and to ensure success in permanent housing. There is already a lot of pressure for the guests, and COVID-19 is not making things easier, but we will continue to assist those in need.”

Yamashita continued, “Our mission is to protect our guests at all times, and we are especially focused on prevention and safety during this pandemic. We are committed to doing what is best to protect our guests, tenants, staff and vendors, and to doing our part to prevent the transmission of the virus. The County of Maui recently delivered tests for us to administer to provide reassurance of wellness in both of our facilities. In addition, we are so thankful for amazing friends in our community who have blessed us with handmade and disposable face masks and shields.”

As a preventative measure to help ensure the COVID-19 virus did not affect the shelter facility, the agency posted and distributed its mitigation plan to all guests, effective immediately and until further notice. Steps included guests notifying the agency upon any symptoms of the virus in themselves or others, such as shortness of breath, high fever and coughing, as well as diarrhea, general malaise, excessive tiredness or changes in behavior.

Yamashita noted, “We advised guests to maintain good personal hygiene and not to share any personal articles. The facility implemented all these safety measures weeks ago in anticipation of a worst-case scenario. In addition, we made sure to meet the six-foot space requirement for social distancing, moving clients into two-bedroom units.”

“My vision is a day on Maui when there are only episodic homeless, or situational homeless, on a very temporary basis,” she said. “I do this work because everyone deserves a dignified and healthy quality of life. Poverty is cruel, and no one should be without a home because of it.”

Dedicated to serving the needs of the homeless and hungry on Maui, KHAKO has been providing emergency food and housing for over 30 years.

Yamashita reflected, “We are truly blessed with great community partners. Our approach goes beyond providing basic shelter and sustenance for homeless persons. Through a series of structured programs and services, we focus on instilling the skills, knowledge and experience necessary to support self-sufficiency and promote positive, healthy life choices.”

A tax-deductible monetary gift to KHAKO is an investment in the future of Maui, helping them break the cycle of homelessness. The staff are also always happy to receive clothing, shoes, books, toys, etc. All donated items are available to their emergency housing residents at no cost.

Yamashita concluded, “The facility needs donations. Community members willing to make donations of food, masks, etc., may call (808) 242-7600 to arrange a drop-off rather than entering the facility grounds. Additionally, all of us here at KHAKO hope all of you are well, healthy and safe.”