LIHU‘E — Richard Shane has been living in his van since 1993.
A veteran, Shane said he’s been to houseless outreach events like these countless times, to no avail.
Councilmember Felicia Cowden overheard, and pulled Shane aside. Telling him she cared, she listened to his story as she walked him to a booth hosted by Women In Need on the lawn in front of the Historic County Building on Friday.
Women In Need assisted houseless residents with tenant-based rental assistance program and Housing Choice vouchers as well as identifying prospective tenants for Kealaula on Pua Loke, the county’s new, 53-unit, permanent, supportive-housing project in Lihu‘e, set to open next year.
According to the Bridging the Gap Homeless Point-in-Time Count conducted on Jan. 26, Kaua‘i had a 21-person rise in unsheltered homelessness, up 6%, from 348 to 369 unsheltered persons.
Cowden has been advocating for county outreach for months at council meetings, asking the county’s Housing Agency to go to the houseless encampments with services.
Cowden herself often goes to the houseless beach encampments, signing up residents for resources using her phone.
“I have a lot of interest in placing the houseless community in housing,” she said. “I’m happy this is here, and I hope we’re able to prioritize our houseless community.”
Friday, the Housing Agency, in partnership with the DOH Kaua‘i District Health Office, Catholic Charities Hawai‘i, Women In Need, Ho‘ola Lahui, Project Vision, Kaua‘i Economic Opportunity and Hale ‘Opio, set up several booths, talking directly to those who need help.
Vonn Ramos, executive director of Hale ‘Opio, set up his booth, providing food, hygiene products and clothing. Hale ‘Opio targets young adults up to 24 years old who may be runaways, houseless or previously in the foster-care system.
“A big part of that is helping vulnerable young adults,” Ramos said.
Ramos said many young adults aren’t aware of the different resources available to them, including federal assistance for housing and medical care.
During the 2018-19 school year, 3,604 students were in unstable housing, according to the state Department of Education. Members of the state DOE had a booth offering information on eligibility forms for the McKinney Vento Act, a federal law providing federal funds for homeless shelter programs, as well as handing out candies in a socially-distant mnner.
Maria Andrews with Hale Ho‘omalu Child &Family Service said it’s important to host outreach programs in locations accessible to the houseless community.
”Most of those who need the services are too ashamed to ask,” Andrews said.
Grace Meek from Project Vision handed out a disinfected chart to those who walked up to her booth. Meek asked them to read the smallest text they could, and handed off reading glasses if necessary based on her assessments.
Additional services included distributing of Medquest and EBT applications, meals, first aid and refreshments.
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or email@example.com.