Letter for Sunday, January 9, 2022

A hand ‘up,’ not a handout

When I read about the opening of Kealaula in December of 2020, I wanted to know more. Like many places, Kaua’i faces the significant challenges of homelessness, addiction and high housing prices. Solutions are often complex, expensive and slow in their implementation despite good intentions.

Kealaula is a long-term, supported rental-housing community in Lihu‘e that was designed for women and families transitioning out of homelessness.

I learned that county agencies, the Mayor’s Office, state and county funds, and many local businesses and charities had supported its development and ongoing operation.

Specifically, I was encouraged that a Hawai‘i nonprofit, Women In Need, would be partnering with the County of Kaua‘i to provide a social worker on-site at Kealaula to support the women and families. Moving from homelessness into the workplace can be a daunting transition, and ongoing support is crucial.

I called Sharon Graham, the on-site staff member from Women In Need, and she told me more about the project and the classroom at Kealaula that is used for classes on parenting, job-skill development, health and wellness, budgeting and financial planning, etc. She said that the supported housing at Kealaula is intended to help every resident find permanent housing within two years.

I know how hard moving can be, but imagine how much more difficult it would be to move from homelessness into a new apartment without much money.

How would they be able to afford kitchen supplies, towels, sheets, cutlery/dishes, etc.? I proposed to Sharon that I reach out to friends and neighbors to provide a “welcome basket” for each woman or family that had moved in that December. A practical laundry basket would be the holder for whatever items that they wanted to purchase and Sharon would make sure each new resident received one.

Friends told neighbors and other friends and soon I had more than enough welcome baskets, and the women at Lihu‘e Lutheran Church were making quilts for the baskets as well.

I reached out to Kaua’i Habitat for Humanity and offered baskets to families moving into their new homes. It has been gratifying to go to the “key-passing” ceremonies where families receive their keys and formally settle in to the home that they have been planning and building for so many months. Now those families also have a “welcome basket” from a Kaua‘i neighbor that will help them start their lives in their new home.

Recently, I heard that Kealaula needed 10 more welcome baskets, and I was concerned that things were not working out well. I spoke to Sharon Graham and she told me not to worry; the families who had moved out were doing EXACTLY as she hoped.

In less than a year in their stable home, they had gotten jobs, education/training and consequently had saved enough to put a deposit down on a new apartment or home. Ten more families could now move in!

One woman thanked Sharon for helping her get off the street, as the stability of her own safe apartment helped her start her own cleaning business. Another family moving out used the time at Kealaula to save, get out of debt and open a bank account. I was excited to pass on the news to the circle of friends making welcome baskets.

The sense of community at Kealaula is making a difference, where healing and hope are possible with a little help from the people of Kaua’i. Helping our neighbors is offering a “hand up,” not a handout, and we are all better for it.

Laurel Coleman, Kalaheo

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