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‘Make it or don’t’

ANAHOLA — Theresa Iida has an anniversary coming up. But not one she wants to celebrate.

“August 8 makes two years I have been homeless,” she said.

Iida said she was raised in Anahola and moved to the Mainland where she was paying about $200 a month for low-income housing. She returned to Kauai and went to the bottom of the waiting lists. 

In the meantime, because she can’t afford high island rent, she camps in Anahola, which continues to be a destination for homeless with permits to camp or live out of their vehicles.

Camping in Anahola is a “make it, or don’t make it” scenario, Iida added. People won’t bother you if you don’t overstay your welcome, but it will be cut short if the locals see you’ve been using the bushes for a bathroom and not cleaning up your rubbish.

“That is why the beach is not lined with homeless,” she said. “These people are proud of what they have and don’t want to see it squandered or abused with stupid things going on.”

Iida was camped at the north end of Aliomanu Beach. Looking back toward the Anahola Beach Park lifeguard tower, the beach and hillside, there are a dozen or so blue tarps and tents poking through the trees and brush. They belong to about 10 families and about 100 people — less than in May.

The county camping permits limit the duration and have strict set-up and break-down times. Aliomanu Beach belongs to the Department of Hawaiian Homeland and does not allow camping. 

Malory Mande said she has been homeless for nearly three years. She lost her job, went through foreclosure and divorce, and her college-aged children are on the Mainland. These days, she fends for herself.

“My family told me to go,” she said.

Her welfare and unemployment are less than $200 per week and do not allow enough for rent and everything else. Instead, Mande said she maintains a vehicle and camps where she can with the support of people who let her do laundry or use the shower when they can.

Stephanie Fernandes, director for Homeless and Housing Programs at Kauai Economic Opportunity, said the Mana Olana overnight shelter has been very full as of late, with priority given to the several working families with minor children.

“We have had to turn people away,” Fernandes said. “But it is different from night to night.”

The county approved the shelter to support 19 people with a bay for single men and another for single women, and three rooms for families. Disqualifications include dangerous drug convictions or sex offenses. 

For those who cannot get into the shelter, KEO will try to get them into an emergency shelter and explain the camping permit process. They will not recommend open places around the island to sleep, Fernandes said.

It is difficult for most people on-island to afford the rents in Kauai, she said. 

It is especially hard for people with a fixed income or disability and not in position to supplement their income to qualify for private housing and it sometimes takes years on the waiting lists.

Some live in their cars although county code prohibits the use of a parked vehicle for the purpose of human habitation on any public highway, or without permission on private property, between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The KEO Care-A-Van provides food, water and supply services with scheduled stops around the island, from Hanalei to Lucy Wright Park in Waimea. According to Fernandes, the van served an estimated 100 clients in July, including about 20 newly homeless people — half of them new to the island.

Napuanani McKeague, founder of the Voices of Kauai network, said the only real answer is to provide a space, hopefully with restrooms, and on the bus line.

Some are proud or won’t take help and others can’t qualify, she said. Some would take public housing but can’t find any available units for the right price or private owners that will accept HUD vouchers — or rent to large families.

The hardships are having to haul in water, the distance to the restrooms and food. McKeague helps to distribute donations and her boxes of necessities from toothbrushes and sanitary napkins to pamphlets for services.

“Eligibility and availability are the biggest issues,” McKeague said. “I know that the tents are an eyesore but that is life.” 

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