Emiko Ryan, a Legal Aid Society of Hawaii attorney, said many things about the island’s homeless population surprised her:
- The high number of white males;
- The large number of families;
- The fact that there is no one central place for them to congregate to receive services and support;
- The fact that homeless people, like other Kauaians, all seem to know each other and look out for each other;
- The fact that many of them have federal vouchers to help them pay rent for homes and apartments, but can’t find affordable units in the high-priced island market;
- The fact that adult heads of homeless families have their children in school;
- The fact that many of the homeless adults are holding jobs.
“People are doing what society tells them to do (apply for federal rental-housing assistance, get jobs, get vouchers, keep their children in school), and they’re still homeless,” said Ryan, in charge of the society’s Holistic Legal Services for the Homeless Project.
In Seattle, where Ryan came from, tent cities for the homeless are allowed on church and school grounds, public parks, or other places, moving from neighborhood to neighborhood periodically, so that those providing legal services, housing assistance and food to the homeless know exactly and easily where to go to service homeless individuals and families.
On Kaua’i, because homeless people can only camp legally at county beach parks for a certain amount of time each year, they hide out, camping illegally, she said.
She found out firsthand about the problems homeless Kauaians face by riding along with officials in the Kauai Economic Opportunity, Inc. Care-A-Van, a program that delivers food, clothing, housing-referral paperwork, and other needed items to members of Kaua’i’s homeless population.
What her experience taught her is the importance of continuing the society outreach program, she said.
“We can’t get them housing, but we can continue to make the homeless a priority,” she said.
“Most of the homeless individuals and families I meet are desperately in need of help getting through the confusing and complicated social-services system,” she said.
“Many are entitled to benefits. They just don’t understand what they need to do, or who they need to see.”
Last year, lawyers in the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii Kaua’i office assisted over 75 homeless persons on Kaua’i through the Holistic Legal Services for the Homeless Project.
Funded by equal $10,000 grants from the G.N. Wilcox Foundation and Atherton Family Foundation, Holistic Legal Services for the Homeless attorneys provide free legal representation and assistance to any and all of Kaua’i’s homeless population members, including the hidden homeless, families in transitional or domestic-violence shelters, and teenage runaways, said Ryan and Greg Meyers, Legal Aid Society of Hawaii Kaua’i office managing attorney.
To implement the project, Legal Aid attorneys partnered with KEO officials, Meyers explained.
To establish rapport and build relationships with members of the homeless population, Ryan visited them on their turf, the beaches and county parks, where they have set up temporary shelters, she explained.
The main objective of the project is to stabilize the lives of Kaua’i’s homeless population, as families and individuals make the transition from homelessness to independent living, she said.
Throughout the course of the year, Legal Aid Society of Hawaii Kaua’i staff members established themselves within the community as working at the place where homeless families and individuals could get help with their varying legal needs, Meyers said.
Through this project, they assisted homeless clients with the following legal issues: guardianships, powers of attorneys, restraining orders, custody, establishing paternity, visitation, child-support enforcement, evictions, public-housing denials, Social Security applications and denials for adults and children, general-assistance denials and terminations, welfare terminations, tax levies, and unemployment benefits, he explained.
- Paul C. Curtis, associate editor, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or email@example.com.