As surely as the Wailua River flows into the Pacific Ocean, the number of homeless people on Kaua‘i continues to grow.
Kauai Economic Opportunity, Inc. (KEO) officials process between 30 and 35 homeless help applications each month, said Stephanie Fernandes, KEO’s homeless and housing programs director.
So even while agency officials have succeeded in placing formerly homeless people in transitional housing or long-term rental housing, encouraging them to live with friends or family members on Kaua‘i, or sending them home to other islands or the Mainland, the fact remains that the homeless population on Kaua‘i is growing, she said.
Some 111 homeless people last month took advantage of KEO’s Care-A-Van services, receiving food, tents, clothing, medical care, and assistance with filling out forms needed to qualify for food stamps, welfare, Social Security and rental assistance.
The staff aboard the distinctive red KEO Care-A-Van visits beach parks from Ha‘ena to Waimea, and other places where the island’s homeless people know they can get food and services, she said.
Add in an estimated 500 or 600 other homeless people receiving KEO services each year, and an estimated 200 “hidden homeless” who don’t take advantage of KEO’s services, and the homeless population on Kaua‘i could approach 1,000, she said, or about one person in sixty of the local population.
The hidden homeless live in Kalalau Valley, caves at Ha‘ena, camp in friends’ pastures or back yards, camp illegally on public and private property, sleep in their cars, Fernandes said.
In addition, there are hundreds of other people who are on the precipice of not having a permanent nighttime address, or the “at-risk homeless,” a category that also includes those living with friends or relatives unbeknownst to landlords.
And the situation for much of Kaua‘i’s homeless population could take a decidedly dark turn when county officials on Nov. 17 begin enforcing permit-only camping in county beach parks from Ha‘ena to Waimea.
“There are no other places to go,” said Fernandes, especially for those homeless people who don’t have friends or family members they can stay with, or resources to find their own housing.
And despite rumors to the contrary, KEO officials don’t advise the homeless to camp on private lands or public beaches when they come looking for housing assistance.
“We do not condone illegal camping,” she said.
Fernandes and other KEO officials have been encouraging many of the long-term homeless living at county beach parks to prepare for the day when they will be asked to leave if they don’t have camping permits. They are also discussing alternatives with them, such as leaving the island or moving in with friends or relatives.
“Lack of affordable housing,” followed by lack of employment, are the main reasons given by homeless people for their decision to live at beach parks, she said. “We do see working poor, but they (also) cannot find affordable housing.”
What seems a desperate situation is not a hopeless scenario, though, she stressed.
“There’s a lot of hope we have provided for people, and that keeps us going,” she said.
Recently, nine formerly homeless families were placed in KEO transitional-housing facilities, and four formerly homeless disabled people were placed in a group home.
In addition, KEO officials provide security deposits to help people get into rental housing, and help low-income individuals stay in rental housing by providing emergency, past-due rental assistance and utilities deposits and past-due power payments, she said.
Also, KEO officials recently took control of eight, two-bedroom apartments at Lihue Court Townhomes, adding to their inventory of transitional-housing units, she said.
“We’ve been able to have some pretty great outcomes,” including families going from homelessness to home ownership.
While there have been successes, Fernandes has no fear she will ever work herself out of her job of caring for Kaua‘i’s homeless population.
“The needs of these people are so varied,” including homeless with mental problems, drug and alcohol addictions, and criminal records that prevent them from qualifying for subsidized governmental housing.
This overview is the first in a series of reports on homelessness on Kaua‘i.
Associate Editor Paul C. Curtis may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 245-3681 (ext. 224).