LIHUE — We may live in paradise — even on the best island in the world — but we are not immune to the issues of homelessness and poverty.
And residents of Kauai are all part of one extended ohana who must take care of each other.
That was the message from Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., who opened the Homeless Awareness Month Candlelight Vigil on Monday at Lihue United Church.
“Creating greater awareness of the challenges presented in trying to address the needs of the homeless in our community is an important effort,” Carvalho said. “Each person’s situation is unique, and there is no one single solution to this problem. Having the opportunity to better understand the needs of this population and to explore better solutions is extremely valuable.”
For some, it is a job opportunity, for others it may require a host of agencies that provide shelter, food or social services. The best way to look at the issue is to provide support in small, medium and large ways, he said, such as providing a place for someone to park a car overnight, or a church making a restroom facility available to people in their cars, all the way to getting people into homes.
The event was organized by Kauai Community Alliance members, Catholic Charities Hawaii, Kauai County Housing Agency, Malama Pono, Mental Health Kokua, Steadfast Housing Development Corp., Women in Need, and YWCA of Kauai and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Rev. Wesley Elmore, of Lihue United Church, said this is the third time they hosted the event. It goes hand in hand with the church’s work in providing fresh produce form their community garden to area food shelves, pantries and shelters,
“This is great that we have all of these agencies coming together and working together collaboratively,” Elmors said.
Evan Price and his daughter Carolyn spoke about how their lives went from living well as homebuilders during the housing boom, then losing it all when the bubble collapsed in 2008.
They came to Kauai 11 years ago. After losing his home, the family squatted in demo condos or parked their car at unfinished projects. It was good if the home was nearly complete and they lived with a microwave and hotplate.
Carolyn didn’t spend much time at home during those times and found solace by joining as many extracurricular actives as her schedule would allow. She found support from her fellow students, teachers and coaches in gymnastics, dance, theater, cross country and others.
Now a sophomore at Island School, Carolyn said at a time when others would expect her to be distracted and troubled, she maintained a 4.0 grade point average and didn’t realize until now that she was in a homeless situation, but feels fortunate.
“We truly made lemonade from lemons,” Carolyn said.
She felt compelled to give back and formed Living Solid, a middle school program for getting kids involved in positive actives they are passionate about even if their parents cannot provide financial support. The goal is to make sure that kids see a bright future ahead of them.
“Homelessness doesn’t define you as a person,” she said.
Council Vice Chairman Mason Chock was present with JoAnn Yukimura, chair of the Housing and Transportation committees. Together they presented the council resolution to recognize Homeless Awareness Week.
With the election over, they said more time will be devoted now to priority issues such as affordable and sustainable housing for Kauai. Yukimura said 60 units of new elderly housing at the former Rice Camp in Lihue and 44 workforce housing units in Princeville shows the county’s commitment.
Barbara Johnson, Joni Lesser-Benton, a licensed clinical social worker, said that being homeless means that people cannot maintain a regular medication schedule or have the stability that comes with cooking their own meals and feeling safe where they sleep. Those are the sources of self-confidence and what helps people find strength and direction, she said.
Dez Shabazz, said she came to Kauai three years ago and stayed with friends until she was able to get on her feet only to see it all disappear as the cost of living grew and work opportunities fell with the bad economy. She became a “child of the Earth” and said she truly does not mind being homeless were it not for the stigma.
Not having a warm shower in the morning for the months she was working was a big deal. Having a warm meal of healthy food was another.
Her friend, John Raymond Carvalho, said he has been homeless going on six years.
“I wanted to attend this event out of friendship and love,” he said.
Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0424 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.