ELEELE — John Silva is looking for a miracle — and it helps, knowing that people care.
Silva was one of hundreds who attended Church on the Beach Sunday morning at Salt Pond Beach. He’s been attending the services for about a year — which is how long he’s been living at Salt Pond.
“I hope to get housing, I hope to get another life,” he said.
Church on the Beach, hosted by Kauai Bible Church in Koloa, offers food, clothes, medical attention, giveaways and prayer on the third Sunday of every month. The program, which has been going strong for eight years, attracts 300 to 350 people, and about 80 percent of the church members volunteer their time, said Tim Mira, a longtime Kauai Bible Church member who acts as the master of ceremonies for Church on the Beach.
Mira said the service is unique because, instead of asking for an offering, the church offers its congregation a $2 bill. It’s more than just for luck, he said.
“It’s to show God loves them,” he said.
It’s important for those who attend the services to know they aren’t alone, Mira said.
“It’s our role, as a church, to show people how to trust in God, and for them to know it’s in His control,” he said.
Hawaii faith leaders are seeking ways to better help a growing number of homeless residents who have been turning to churches for food and a place to sleep.
Dozens of leaders representing multiple faiths met with homeless service providers on Oahu last week to discuss giving to those in need.
At the last count, there were 339 homeless people on Kauai in 2015. Of that number, 74 percent of the homeless population were unsheltered, according to the State of Hawaii Homeless Point in Time, or PIT, count.
Answering the call to help those people is part of being a Christian, said Bob Hallman, senior pastor at Crossroads Christian Fellowship in Kapaa.
“If a person claims to be a follower of Christ, they know what Christ said: ‘What you’ve done to the least of my brothers, you’ve done to me,’” he said. “So we have a responsibility to address these problems.”
Ryan Newman, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church, also in Kapaa, agreed.
“We need to reach those who are under-served, forgotten and abandoned,” he said. “And we can’t do it behind a desk, we have to get into the community and get to know the people we serve.”
Forging those relationships is key to solving the homeless population on Kauai, Newman said.
“They’re the ones who can tell us what we need to do to help them in the long term,” he said.
One way parishioners at All Saints Episcopal Church are getting to know the homeless population is doing their laundry.
On the first and third Wednesday of the month, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., 14 volunteers take over Kapaa Laundromat, on Kuhio Highway, to clean people’s laundry.
“Doing laundry is intimate, and you get a chance to learn people’s stories,” Newman said.
Between 95 and 105 loads of laundry are done every Wednesday night.
The program, called Laundry Love, has been in effect for almost a year. It is a short-term solution to the homeless issue, Newman said, but an important one.
“We want to provide them with basic human dignity and wellness,” Newman said.
Newman remembers a man who came in on a Wednesday, just to make sure he had clean clothes for a job interview.
“He strategically scheduled the interview for Thursday, so he could get his clothes washed,” Newman said. “He got the job, and I like to think it was partly due to the confidence he had in having clean clothes.”
In the long term, Newman hopes to convert a bus into a shower station, and establish mobile showers.
“Plenty of other churches have food programs, so we try to think of the box,” he said. “Clean clothes and showers are two things I enjoy and take advantage of.”
Crossroads Christian Fellowship, Lihue Lutheran Church, St. Catherine Catholic Church and Holy Cross Catholic Church are some other island churches that offer food and clothing ministries to the homeless.
On Wednesdays, the Kauai Bible College, a Crossroads Christian Fellowship program, serves sack lunches to the homeless population on the Kealia Bike Path, said Josh Cucjen, KBC leader.
“We bring them lunches, hang out with them and invite them to our Sunday services,” he said.
About 15 to 20 volunteers go out every Wednesday, he said.
“In general, we see the same people, so we’ve developed friendships with them and recognize them when we’re out and about,” he said.
Every Thursday morning, members of Lihue Lutheran Church pack 400 bag lunches that are passed out to Boys and Girls Clubs and other locations around Kauai, said Pastor Paul Kirchner.
While the lunches, which is made up of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a bag of carrots, raisins and chips, a juice box and a granola bar, are dedicated for hungry women and children, the leftovers go the homeless, said Barbara Holwegner, one of the planners of Mobile Munchies Outreach.
Funding comes from donations and fundraisers, she said.
St. Catherine Catholic Church in Kappa sends people to the beaches on Wednesdays to distribute food, as well as blankets, clothing and backpacks, to the homeless, said Carmen Nakasone, church secretary.
Health care professionals also provide blood pressure and diabetes tests, she added.
“It’s about answering Christ’s call to serve others,” she said.
Outreach programs to help the homeless begin in the church, Kirchner said.
“The government doesn’t start programs. They may fund the ones that are already going, but churches are the No. 1 group that sees a need and tries to do something about it,” he said.
Helping the homeless is a widespread effort across churches of all religions and beliefs, Newman added.
“No church alone has the resources to really serve the population as individuals,” he said. “We really need to come together to set up long-term programs that will address homelessness on a global issue on the island.”