LIHU’E — Only a few yards from where some “houseless” Kauaians hang out during the day, around 100 residents gathered for a candlelight vigil in front of the historic County Building last night, to raise awareness about the need to help the homeless on Kaua’i.
The gathering, which ran from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., was held to mark “National Homeless Awareness Week,” and to connect with those who are homeless.
The vigil brought out the likes of state Sen. Gary Hooser, D-Kaua’i-Ni’ihau; Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste; Kaua’i County Councilmembers JoAnn Yukimura, Mel Rapozo and Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho; Bernard Carvalho, the head of the county Offices of Community Assistance; and MaBel Fujiuchi, executive director of Kauai Economic Opportunity, Inc.
Hooser has advocated more help to the homeless, and has expressed his frustrations about seeing folks living in tattered tents at Kaua’i beaches.
“I think it shows the community’s commitment to resolving, solving and supporting the people who are homeless in our community,” Hooser said of the gathering.
Baptiste said that “recognition of this (homeless) as a problem is something that all of Kaua’i has to realize and take responsibility for.”
At one point of the gathering, Puna Dawson led a blessing for a semi-circle of participants who carried lit candles secured in white paper plates.
A moment of silence was held for those for whom the participants seek to help.
Friday night’s event on Kaua’i coincided with a similar gathering scheduled yesterday afternoon at the state Capitol building on O’ahu.
More of the island’s homeless, or “houseless,” those who have no residence of their own but live in dwellings with family and friends, weren’t able to make it to the vigil.
That was because they either didn’t have vehicles, or because they couldn’t catch the county bus to the site in time.
Some of Kaua’i’s “houseless” who socialized in front of the historic County Building earlier Friday afternoon said they want to remain optimistic about government leaders’ efforts to help them and more than 500 homeless people they say live on the island, mostly at beaches.
“It can’t hurt,” said Jim, a retired lifeguard with the City and County of Honolulu, of government programs to help the homeless.
He made his comments as he ate a plate lunch on a picnic table on the lawn in front of the historic County Building Friday afternoon.
In order to help the homeless more, Hooser said, “we have to fund the shelters adequately. Right now. They are not being adequately funded statewide.”
His administration is spear-heading efforts to build more than 700 affordable homes on Kaua’i in a two-year period, and many others on state lands one day.
With $2 million in federal, state and county funds, the county is leading the charge to build the first emergency and transitional shelter for the homeless by the Lihu’e head-quarters of Kauai Economic Opportunity, Inc.
“And we also need to get better economic paths for people, so they can make higher wages,” Baptiste said of other solutions.
KEO leaders have state funding to carry out such programs, and county leaders support that effort by funding KEO programs, Baptiste said.
Jim, 56, said he would welcome renewed government efforts. He said he was a life-guard for 25 years before he retired in the late 1990s and moved to Kaua’i.
He said he stays with his sister, and that high rental rates keep him from moving into his own place. “My pension isn’t enough to get me even a room,” he said.
“They (landlords) want $1,000 to $1,200 a month. They want first month’s rent and last month’s rent, and I have only half of that. Does that mean I have to starve a month to get the rest?” Because he can’t muster adequate rental funds, he said he has lived “mostly here and there for the last 2 years, county parks, beaches,” and gets around the island by bus.
Gary, 51, moved from California to Kaua’i four years ago to visit his brother, and decided to stay in paradise. After settling in, he worked in the construction business, and worked with horses.
But he had to stop working due to a spinal disease, resulting in his becoming “house-less,” he said.
He said he isn’t homeless, because he lives in a shed on his brother’s property.
Gary said he likes to talk story with other homeless or houseless folks in front of the historic County Building, and visits there almost every day.
While there, he likes to read, and works on crossword puzzles. The park is one place where he can find peace and quiet, he said.
A friend of Gary’s, Kamaile Santos, lives outdoors with Miki, her beloved dog, and socializes on the historic County Building lawn.
She said the humanitarian work of those with The Salvation Army, Kauai Economic Opportunity and the Aloha Church greatly improves her life, and the lives of others.
Aloha Church and The Salvation Army leaders provide food, and Kauai Economic Opportunity folks operate a medical van that makes the stops to serve the homeless.
Santos, who is part Native Hawaiian, singled out the help of The Salvation Army, which operates a mobile soup kitchen that dispenses food.
“Please give a lot of credit to the ladies at The Salvation Army,” Santos said. “They come out on their own time to prepare meals, and they give grace, and give sack lunches, so we have something to eat during the middle of the day. You can’t beat that.”
- Lester Chang, staff writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or email@example.com