Award-winningFor Nicole Naiwi, 29, joining Ohana Ola O Kahumana was the best decision she made in her life.
Ohana Ola helps
The program is the only Hawaii
one to win an award from the
U.S. Housing department for
its approach to helping people
By Janine Tully
Recovering from drugs and alcohol addiction and with no place to go, Naiwi heard of the program, which helps homeless families get their lives together and find permanent housing.
At the time, she was at a residential treatment center and felt she was ready for a stable environment where she could be with her four children.
"I needed a structured place to help me get back on my feet," Naiwi said, while participating in a Christmas activity with other families at the program's center. "Ohana Ola was a life-savior."
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the program its "Best of the Best Practices Award" this week. The award is given to HUD-funded programs that use innovative methods to improve the lives of people in the community.
Ohana Ola was one of 100 HUD award recipients, picked from more than 2,800 nominations nationwide, and the only one in Hawaii to receive the award.
For program executive director Helen Kimball, the award recognizes the program's effectiveness in combating homelessness.
"We are successful because the families come with a willingness to change their former destructive lifestyle," Kimball said. "Ohana Ola offers them a safe, supportive environment where they can learn how to make healthy choices."
Families stay at Ohana Ola for two years. They receive counseling, education and employment training, as well as courses on self-development and home and anger management. The center also helps clients find employment and permanent housing.
"This is not a treatment center, but a facility to help people rebuild their lives," Kimball said. "It's about self-empowerment and accountability and following the housing rules. Families must want to make this a drug-free environment."
In Hawaiian, "ohana" means family and "ola" means life renewal, Kimball said. The program, founded in 1991, is an affiliate of Alternative Structure International, a nonprofit corporation focusing on alternative therapeutic programs for the severely mentally ill.
About 15 nonprofit and government agencies provide on-site services, as well as follow-up services for one year after the family leaves the facility. Participants also attend 12-step programs in the community.
"Recovery is their responsibility," she said. "It's part of learning to be accountable."
Kimball puts the program's success rate at 65 percent, but said the figure is not based on scientific data. To date, 145 people have lived at the facility. The majority are recovering addicts.
Set against the Waianae mountains on 12 acres of city land, the facility consists of 14 wooden duplex units clustered around a children's day care center. The units house 21 adults and 35 to 40 children, including infants and teen-agers. While women make up the majority of residents, the program is open to any men or women with dependent children.
The program is in the process of obtaining construction permits to add 36 more units. The cost is estimated at $5.7 million.
Program officials expect to receive about $3 million from HUD, $680,000 from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Seattle -- one of the largest gifts granted by the bank for affordable housing -- and $70,000 from McInerny foundation. The rest of the funds are expected to be raised through grants from local nonprofit organizations, said development project coordinator Annie Walenta.
"There's a shortage of facilities for transitional housing, and the city is encouraging us to expand," Walenta said.