Kauai’s hidden homeless: Hoku Rowland

  • Contributed photo

    Jim Edmonds

In our last Homegrown Housing column we talked about Kauai’s homeless problem and introduced some ideas to find solutions. This week we are hearing directly from one of our homeless neighbors.

Hoku Rowland was born in 1968 on the island of Oahu to his very young mother and father, but was raised by his grandparents. From an early age he experienced severe family dysfunction and multiple accounts of sexual abuse.

“Having not put these traumas into check back then, it created issues for me growing up, and still affects me today,” he said.

As a teen, Hoku attended St. Louis High School, where he excelled in his studies, canoe paddling and football. But soon he got caught up in a destructive social scene.

At 28 years old, Hoku moved to Kauai to escape the city’s dope scene and raise his family. At the time he found a three-bedroom home in the Apopo Hale subdivision for $750 a month, keeping busy as a mechanic and handyman.

Alas, addiction followed, leading to multiple arrests, jail time and family dissolution. It wasn’t until Hoku’s probation was revoked in 2012 that he reached a turning point and decided it was time to take the path of sobriety.

“There was nothing and no one that could have done anything for me to stop my using drugs. No mother’s love, no children’s, no housing, no job, no level of spirituality could have worked unless I finally admitted to myself that I was the one with the problem … and took steps to right it.”

Throughout his years in and out of jail, Hoku rented his home to displaced individuals and families to provide much needed housing and to help cover his bills. But, just last year, he let his home go to foreclosure, unable to pay for years of tenant damage on a fixed income (disability).

What would you do? Hoku moved into his truck.

Hoku has been clean for five years now … but describes these last months as the lowest point in his life.

“I think about my drug use, my days in jail, and that loneliness, but to me the bottom line is, I was taken care of, I had food, I had a place to shower and a bed to sleep on,” he said. “I try to remain in some sort of gratitude for what I do have, but I can tell you I don’t wake up on the right side of the bed every single day.”

When Hoku lost his house, he proactively sought help from our nonprofit agencies, as well as government programs. But Hoku didn’t qualify.

Today, Hoku survives on his Social Security disability, which just barely covers his truck payment and cost of living.

“The more screwed up you are … the easier it is to get help and housing. But, for people like me who are trying to keep it together, doing everything we can, we don’t get any assistance. I get resentful because homeless from the mainland come over here, get food stamps right away, some money, Medicaid, and I get nothing.”

Further, for those who struggle with the disease of addiction and need in-patient rehabilitation, there are virtually no options on Kauai.

“Those who are ready to change their lives and who are in active recovery can succeed, and do,” he said. “Abstinence from drugs and alcohol have to come first, before anyone can manage their lives, let alone be responsible enough to be good stewards of anything! Can you even imagine trying to remain sober, while homeless, especially if you were disabled?”

The majority of our chronically homeless believe that the system has failed them, there is no hope, no trust — just criminalization.

Homeless individuals and families are not created equally. Many struggle with a multitude of issues that take a case-by-case approach to resolve.

At 49 years old, Hoku has found some escape — in academics — at Kauai Community College and, somehow, he’s maintaining a GPA of 3.8.

He aspires to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in either psychology or communications so he can help others with their addictions and social struggles.

We hope that Hoku’s story will help you be more aware and have less judgment of our hidden homeless, and working-class — and the fact that nearly 50 percent of our population is only one paycheck from Hoku’s predicament.

This is also a call to our government to provide for and protect its people and to stop pretending homelessness will go away.


Jim Edmonds is a Realtor and with Homegrown Housing.

  1. harry oyama December 3, 2018 1:51 am Reply

    That’s the primary problem for locals who reside here much longer than those migrants who fly here on one way ticket, go straight to the welfare office and get social benefits that are often denied to those like Hoku who lives on Social Security disability, which is not much, although he earned it unlike most of these carpet baggers coming from the mainland.

    Priority should be given to those like Hoku and not the parasites that leech on the our social benefits often denying it to those more worthly.

    I see the abuse also in the Veterans Administration where those who got kicked out of the military, but still have access to VA benefits like disability, medical, Section 8 housing and education. They have a bad attitude, the same attitude that got them kicked out of the military and should not receive any benefits for violating the original contract when they signed up. The VA would save $millions often wasted through repeated offenses regarding drug and alcohol abuse that would go to those veterans who fulfilled their obligations and need this assistance, often denied because these worthless “veterans” are sucking up the benefits.

    The same should be given to people especially the homeless like Hoku and not these parasites on one way ticket to Hawaii to suck up the social benefits for themselves.

    1. MisterM December 3, 2018 2:32 pm Reply

      Harry, you’re letting your racism overwhelm common sense. If there’s a texbook leech on society, it’s Hoku. In and out of jail his adult life. Now sucking down more resources because he’s got some corrupt doc to say he’s injured. He’s never held a steady job or ever been anything but a bloodsucker. Immigrants want to work – at any job. Is Hoku looking for a job? Not a chance – he’s “disabled” – the golden grifter ticket!

  2. sheeples December 3, 2018 3:11 am Reply

    Keeping on keeping on is great while hoping for things to turn around. Meanwhile the rich of kauai roll around in their teslas and Ford raptor with their easily earned corporate tax welfare benefits. I am rich and theteclever and play the game right! They say. I can not support or give money to these unfortunate souls! I need that extra vacation and addition on my large opulent estate! These homeless should be smart and lucky like me! Please send these deplorables back to where I can’t see them! I am the best and deserve all that i have! I am just plain nette

  3. gordon oswald December 3, 2018 5:38 am Reply

    A sad story for sure! Unfortunately, for those who have bad luck with their early family life, it can take some horrible turns. It seems that regardless of circumstances, LIFE HAPPENS! Congratulations on kicking your drug habit and staying clean! Congratulations for being able to go to school for free because this wonderful Country gives so much to the downtrodden. With your degree we pray you will be able to find a job and get yourself back on your feet. We all have to live with our life’s choices whether good or bad, Those of us who make horrible choices always pay one way or another. One thing for sure, after your degree is earned staying on Kauai is not a good choice. It’s too expensive, there aren’t enough jobs for College graduates, and your chances of doing good things with the money you will make, even if you could find a job here, are immediately cut in half because of the very high cost of living. Hopefully, you have a contact or two on the mainland who can help you out in a much more reasonable environment for those who find themselves in your situation! Good luck!

  4. james December 3, 2018 7:31 am Reply

    I’m not sure what to make of this guy. I admire the fact that he kicked drugs but why is he playing the victim card instead of finding a job, making money, and finding a home? What prevents him from working? If he can maintain a 3.8 gpa at KCC, then one would think he could work. Why does he think he should receive benefits if he doesn’t qualify? I don’t get it obviously. Maybe someone can enlighten me.

  5. Mina December 3, 2018 7:46 am Reply

    If you’re over 30 and still camping out at mommy’s house, then you’re homeless, dude.

  6. kauaiboy December 3, 2018 8:38 am Reply

    Some things do not add up here. Hoku owned a house here, in a market where junky foreclosures sell for $500.000+ and let it go into foreclosure? Why? And why does he have a truck payment that, with his cost of living, exceed his social security disability payment? Sell that big-ticket truck and buy a dented one for cash.

    Hoku asks “Can you even imagine trying to remain sober, while homeless, especially if you were disabled?” ABSOLUTELY! Not a great time to spend cash on alcohol and drugs…

    Sounds like we need a alcohol and drug-free homeless shelter program that teaches self-esteem, less reliance on government assistance, and legal opportunities for participants to dig themselves out of the hole they are in, whether they dug the hole themselves or circumstances put them there.

  7. harry oyama December 3, 2018 8:40 am Reply

    Hoku has contributed to our Social Security program otherwise he wouldn’t have been classified by that department as Disabled and unable to work due to the fact he is getting early tax free compensation for some related injury or medical condition. That leads to the unfairness of foolish policy that enable illegals to get social benefits who has not contributed one single penny into SS programs.

    We should take care of legal Americans first and forget about these illegals and economic migrants at our borders waiting to suck our social programs dry because they are too lazy to make changes to their own countries where they came from.

  8. MisterM December 3, 2018 2:15 pm Reply

    Oh, he’s still playing the victim card. 49 and on Social Security? Going to school is a farce – it’s just another easy way out that will have predictable results. Get a job – if you’re a mechanic, plenty of jobs for someone who shows up on time, day in, day out. But we know this guy couldn’t bring himself to actually be responsible. All he really wants is handouts.

  9. tunnels December 3, 2018 9:04 pm Reply

    What a bunch of hater’s. Gee wiz, at least he’s trying to improve his life! There’s a program through the SSA called “Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS)” that allows a disabled individual to work or participate in vocational training, or go to school while receiving disability benefits. So he made a boat load of bad choices throughout his life, the good news is, he isn’t now. I doubt he met the 20/40 rule, so I’m guessing he’s getting SSI and not SSDI-there’s a big difference. At least he’s putting forth the effort to get an education and set goals. Before ya’ll point your judging fingers, remember-there’s 3 pointing back at you!

  10. harry oyama December 4, 2018 4:13 pm Reply

    Come to think about it 50% of Hawaii’s residents live from paycheck to paycheck and wouldn’t take much to become homeless just like Hoku. At least he tries to better himself.

    The cost of living just went up again, since Harry Kim want’s taxpayers to write him a blank check for $850 million to rebuild the areas destroyed by lava, Then you have Kirk Chadwell’s $10 billion dollar Rail along with the State’s $1.2 billion dollar medical expense for over 50,000 migrants.

    So don’t be surprised when the homeless numbers climb this year and continue. Your next door neighbor may end up living in tents if we don’t put a stop to all these free loading parasites.

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