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 It wasn’t until Hoku’s probation was revoked in 2012 that he reached a turning point and decided it was time to take the path of sobriety.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.