Voice for the homeless

HANAMAULU — There was food, drink and quiet music at the Hanamaulu Beach Park pavilion Thursday morning.

A few people sat, ate and chatted, while others came, had a plate of hot stew, and went their way.

The turnout was smaller than in the past, but it was nice to see people there, said Napuanani McKeague, founder of the Voices of Kauai network, dedicated to assisting the homeless. Those without a home, and residents, too, are returning to the oceanside park.

“The reality of it is, there’s an unwanted element here,” McKeague said. “We get that, we understand that. This is one of those places that needs a little extra help.”

The county closed the beach park at night, and changed open hours to 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., in early 2014, to combat vandalism, illegal activity and vagrancy.

It’s had the desired effect.

The park is clean and well-kept, one of the reasons why McKeague and her assistant and friend Malory Mande have been offering free meals there on Thursdays for the past several months, as well as just checking on their homeless colleagues who frequent the park during its open hours.

“‘How are you today?’ That might be the best thing they hear all day,” McKeague said.

But they do more than offer friendly greetings and a smile.

Voices of Kauai provides, when it can, clothes and toiletries and more to those in need. It all comes from donations, which she and Mande collect, store and give away.

“That’s our office and our home,” McKeague said, pointing to an older model white van. “I just bought it.”

It’s that van that provides their transportation and a place to sleep at night — though that’s getting more difficult, she said, because sleeping in cars overnight on public property isn’t allowed.

So it’s nice to have Hanamaulu Beach Park, a nicer version than a few years ago, to unwind, provide food and other necessities to the homeless during the day. Anywhere from five to 20 might show up for breakfast, then lunch, maybe a shirt, too, on Thursdays.

Kalena Mande, who lives on the Westside, was at the park for the meal and company.

“I’m OK,” he said. “I haven’t been down here for a long time. It’s nice.”

Voices of Kauai is what McKeague called “in betweeners,” something she created in 2006 after noticing there were many people who needed services and help but were going without. They are there, she said, to “connect the pieces” and point people in the right direction. They don’t get paid and, in fact, are homeless, too.

“It’s what we live,” said Mande, her assistant. “Where ever we go, we try to set an example.”

“I do most of the paperwork, she does most of the grunt work,” McKeague said, smiling.

Voice of Kauai is having an impact.

“If we don’t come, they miss us. That’s for sure,” Mande said.

McKeague, a veteran, doesn’t make any money from Voice of Kauai. Her staff, she said, is her clients. And they get by on very little.

“We tell people, we can help get what they need,” she said. “We want to speak for everybody.”

She understands what it’s like. It’s what motivates her to seek donations she can share.

Friends and businesses help, with even a $5 donation making a difference for those in need. She and Mande do the cooking for some of those Thursday meals.

“We use what we get,” McKeague said. “We also live out here. We understand what they go through. We don’t make a big deal. We mind our own business.”

As for Hanamaulu Beach Park, McKeague has become an advocate of sorts for the park, which she said is “the butt of all the jokes,” but shouldn’t be. She would love to see more people come down.

“It’s about changing people’s thoughts and misconceptions,” she said. “There has been change and not enough of the community knows that.”

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