CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Telefina Uruman, right, picketing the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, has been living at the Kakaako homeless shelter since it opened in May. Advocates for the homeless initially were told there would be no room for them to attend a forum about homelessness at the hotel yesterday, but the forum was opened to them.
Micronesians can't stay or leave
Many who come in need of medical care or education find it too costly to remain
Isinory Manuel came to Hawaii hoping to find the medical service and medicine for his stroke that was unavailable in Micronesia.
But when Manuel, 62, found a Honolulu doctor, he could not afford the medicine.
"That's a big question nowadays. Either I stay up here and wait if I get treated, or I go home and forget about it," Isinory said.
Isinory and other citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia are free to travel and work within the United States under the 1986 Compact of Free Association, which gives the U.S. military access to their islands in return.
But chasing a better life in Hawaii, where the educational and medical systems are better than in Chuuk, has left several Micronesians homeless.
At 15 percent, Pacific Islanders represent the third-largest ethnic group using shelter services in Hawaii, behind Hawaiians at 28 percent and Caucasians at 26 percent, according to a 2005 study by the Center on the Family at the University of Hawaii, working with the Hawaii Public Housing Authority.
"There's a huge impact on all of our public housing and homeless facilities," said Sandy Miyoshi, homeless program director at the authority.
Maj. Brian Saunders of the Salvation Army, which has worked for 13 years with the Chuukese community in Guam, discussed the causes of Micronesians' struggles at the Hawaii Statewide Homeless Forum yesterday. The forum, held at the Waikiki Beach Marriott, was among events held across the state for Homeless Awareness Week.
Micronesians arriving in Guam often lack the documents needed to succeed in the United States and its territories, Saunders said. He suggests government agencies translate necessary government materials into Micronesian for people arriving in Hawaii.
Chuuk, one of the four states of the Federated States of Micronesia, has an annual average income of $1,800, a minimum wage of $1.25 and partially working electricity and water.
The most important elements in Chuukese culture are the family and land, Saunders said. Chuukese have little concern for cash because the land provides.
Many Chuukese come to Hawaii or Guam because doctors in Chuuk are undereducated, said Manuel, who is staying with his nephew. After two months, tension between them is growing, he said, but he is not sure he is ready to go back. Medicine that was prescribed to him is unavailable in Chuuk.
"Chuuk is the worst," he said. "What we call doctor is supposed to be medical officer only."
"I'm scared to go home with this stroke. It's really scary to me. It's been a big decision to make," he said.
Still, the culture is very different here, Manuel said. In Chuuk he has breadfruit, tapioca and other ways to subsist off his land. Here, "everything is money," he said.
But Manuel has begun to accept the American ways.
"Don't ever depend on people to give you," he said he tells his son, who lives in Honolulu. "You live in America now."