WAIANAE COAST HOMELESS
The right path often leads to nowhere
Groups say hard-working homeless find the isle housing market out of reach
Gov. Linda Lingle and homeless advocates will meet on the Waianae Coast tonight to brainstorm ways to help the increasing amount of people camping on beaches and parks.
About 100 people -- including residents, lawmakers and even the homeless themselves -- are expected to attend a "listening session" from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Waianae District Park, said Linda Smith, senior policy adviser to the governor.
"We are encouraging people to come with suggestions for what can be done to address the issues that we see along that whole Leeward Coast," Smith said.
The number of tents covering the coast's white beaches and grassy parks has been surging for years, but the problem worsened significantly since the city started closing Ala Moana Beach Park on March 27, said resident Neddie G. Waiamau-Nunuha, a member of the Waianae Neighborhood Board.
"We didn't have this much," she said, estimating the homeless population in the area to be above 2,000, many of whom are children. "The reason we have this much is that, from all over the island, they are coming to Waianae. They left the park, went to the sidewalk and came to Waianae."
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Homeless people have set up tents around Maili Beach Park, such as this one that rested between palm trees yesterday.
Several groups offering services for the homeless said yesterday that Hawaii's high cost of living and expensive rentals make it nearly impossible for people living on the street to eventually rent or buy a home. They say although people are finding jobs and learning how to manage their incomes, their budget still isn't enough for even the cheapest available rentals.
The Weinberg Village Waimanalo, a transitional housing shelter that focuses on homeless families with minor age children, is constantly having trouble finding places they can afford. The shelter currently has about 100 people, of which more than half are children.
"I have a lot of families that I can transition, they are doing really well, they are successful, doing everything they are supposed to do here, but I need a place to be able to send them to," said program manager Holly Holowach. "I can't bring the next one in off the beach because I can't lift them up yet. It's kind of a Catch-22."
The same problem is happening at the Institute for Human Services, which is currently serving 240 men, 60 women and 23 families, said Margot Schrire, public relations manager of the 24-hour program that provides some 800 hot meals each day. The institute is subsidizing rent by 70 percent for some 57 people on top of giving monthly rental assistance to about 12 others.
"What we are facing really, is an affordable rental housing crisis," she said. "There are many people becoming homeless even while they work ... Those numbers are going up."
Jamie Borce, a 28-year-old cashier at Hawaiian Water Adventure Park, has been living in a tent on Nanakuli for almost a year since she left home because of a family dispute. Borce said her $800 monthly salary quickly disappears after she buys food, clothing and insurance, leaving virtually nothing for rent.
"I don't want to stay here all my life," she said while doing laundry in a bucket. "But I can't get my own place because of the cost of rent here."
Borce, who said she can't qualify for rental assistance because she usually gets stuck behind families with kids, said organizations should do a better job screening people who claim to be homeless to abuse the system.
Betty Lou Larson, housing program director for Catholic Charities Hawaii, said as many as 15 people are on the wait list to enroll in her programs, which serves about 350 homeless people a year.
She said the state could increase rental subsidies that are capped at $160 a month. She said while that amount may be enough to help a single person buy a studio costing $500, it would do little to offset a $1,500 monthly rent for a family.
But she warned about programs that focus solely on rent, noting that workers could lose someone who built up the courage to seek help if they don't pay attention to other needs, such as drug abuse or mental illnesses.
"You need outreach that shows people that there is hope," she said.