LIHUE — Each day, at the picnic tables fronting the Historic County Building, dozens of people gather. They are a community of homeless. But it is from within this group that hope emerges.
“These people are willing to give you what little they have because they understand the situation,” Jeanette Wood said. “In that way, we are never homeless, only houseless, because we are a community.”
Wood said her values are family first. She and her husband moved to Kauai so he could assist his aging parents. It didn’t take long in the down economy to wind up without a home. The couple and their daughter stay with friends and relatives most nights but can never be sure where they will sleep.
Wood and her daughter could stay in the shelters or qualify for transitional housing, but that would mean leaving her husband out in the cold. With a felony on his criminal record, by law he is not allowed in the shelters and would disqualify the family from subsidized housing.
“The programs are wonderful and the people sincerely want to help everyone,” Wood said. “But the policy is not going to let him in regardless of whether the felony happened two months ago, or many years ago when he was very young.”
The bright side is the family stays together, and they make sure their daughter stays in the same school. Another plus is noticing the positive difference with their daughter when the parents are together.
“We, as a family, are stronger,” Wood said.
Advocates are rallying to do what they can to help the needy during national Homeless Awareness Week. A candlelight vigil with guest speakers was held Monday at Lihue United Church.
Stephanie Fernandes, director for Homeless and Housing Programs at Kauai Economic Opportunity, said the Mana Olana overnight shelter has been full as of late, with priority given to the several working families with children. 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.
The KEO Care-A-Van provides food, water and supply services with scheduled stops are spots around the island from Hanalei to Lucy Wright Park in Waimea. According to Fernandes, the Care-A-Van serviced an estimated 100 clients around the island.
Kauai Community Alliance Chair Debra DeLuis said the members of the group are spending the week following the Care-A-Van on its several stops around the island each day. Today will be spent in Lihue and Thursday will be on the Westside. Friday, the group travels to Oahu for the statewide conference on homelessness.
“We are speaking with people who are homeless and gathering the data we need,” she added.
KCA updates the homeless census each January. Right now, there are about 400 homeless on Kauai. There are veterans with post-traumatic stress, addicts, families, singles and the unemployed.
“That is a workable number and we are fortunate,” DeLuis said.
Trying to help
Kym Estacia of Lihue stops by Marine Camp each day to check on friends. She said that simple daily necessities would make the biggest difference.
“They need a bathroom with a shower and running water for drinking,” Estacia said.
She watches some people walk a half mile each day to the public shower areas to fill jugs with water. They are good about hauling their trash out and make money by recycling bottles and cans. Her boyfriend chooses to be homeless, she said. He has a house in Anahola that a sister occupies, while he chooses to do his commercial fishing and just stay at the beach.
Other regulars include individuals and small families living out of cars and tents.
The hardest cases are the kids, just 18 to 20 years old. Their parents move off-island and they are basically fending for themselves unsupported and ill prepared for the future.
Estacia, a Hanamaulu resident, said most of the homeless value respect because they get slighted so much. Most at Marine Camp will clean up after themselves and that those who don’t create a problem for everyone.
At least one of the homeless is on a disability, but rather than channel through resources for help, he uses the money for drugs, she said. It is difficult to feel sorry for some people, but she tries to help everyone.
“I may not have any money to give them but I can take them to fill their water or help them with their HUD forms,” she said.
Struggle to survive
Jeanette Wood said the downside is that being houseless leaves one feeling helpless. Wood said KEO’s transitional housing programs are the model everyone would like to see. This type of stability and support while getting back on their feet is crucial. However, she said with just eight homes, there is no way to realistically expect that opportunity.
The food stamp program and other assistance has been invaluable, Wood said. She would like to see more frequent bus service with later hours and holiday and Sunday service for work and to attend the church dinners around the island. The most difficult thing about being houseless, she said, is having a place to keep busy during the day.
Kelly Wood said the only real solution is to make services available to everyone, regardless of criminal background or other circumstances. These are the people that are slipping between the cracks, he said.
“You can’t get services at all if you have a record,” he said. “I understand the legal issues these agencies have to deal with, but there has to be some assistance or are they going to just keep cutting these people loose in the woods?”
Rick Hardwood, a contractor on Kauai for the past 15 years, is spending his last weeks living out of his truck and tent on Kauai beaches with his girlfriend. He said this is a true homeless awareness week for him that everyone should try staying out here with bare essentials and imagine there is nothing else.
“About 1 percent of them are true society dropouts who don’t want anything from anyone,” Hardwood said. “Most of them are in a tough situation and just need some help moving forward.”
Attracting industries to Kauai would go far to creating jobs. The other element is adopting a compassion toward homelessness.
“Sitting out here is peaceful but if I had to be out here knowing there was nothing to go back to, that is a pretty bad place,” he said.