Beachboy finds shelter through city’s transitional housing center
March 23, 2018 | 70° | Check Traffic

Hawaii News

Beachboy finds shelter through city’s transitional housing center


    “Uncle Clay” Gohier watched as Russ Lapera of Helping Hands Hawaii and Gracie Suaglar, Institute for Human Services, unloaded furniture from HHH for Gohier’s new apartment, his first home in 10 years.


    Clayton “Uncle Clay” Gohier and his wife, Verena, reveled Tuesday in their new one-bedroom apartment in McCully, acquired through the city’s Housing First program and new transitional housing community at Sand Island, which utilizes shipping containers.


After 10 years on the streets of the Waikiki area and 202 days in the city’s new transitional housing community on Sand Island, the last of the original clients to enter Hale Mauliola moved out last week and into a new apartment in McCully.

Clayton “Uncle Clay” Gohier, a 75-year-old Waikiki beachboy, and his wife, Verena, 57, considered their turn of fortune last week as they waited in their one-bedroom, 506-square-foot apartment for a truckload of donated furniture to arrive from Helping Hands Hawaii.

Asked what it’s been like to wake up in the first place of his own in a decade, Uncle Clay said, “It’s beautiful. This is a place I can call our home. We were on the street for a long time.”

Verena, an admitted neat freak, busily organized linens, wiped down jalousies and prepped the apartment for the arrival of a dinette set, bed, chairs and kitchen tools.

“I love it,” Verena declared. “I get to clean up my own house and scrub everything. I never did that for years.”

Clay said that selecting their furniture at Helping Hands “was like being a kid again pointing at stuff in a crack seed store.”

The Gohiers represent the last of Hale Mauliola’s original 38 clients who moved in between November and January to join the city’s first attempt at building a transitional community for homeless people out of refurbished shipping containers.

Since opening, Hale Mauliola has housed 214 homeless adults and couples — and their pets, for the first time — in 25 shipping containers.

Some 96 of them have since moved into “stable and/or permanent housing,” said Kimo Carvalho, spokesman for the Institute for Human Services, which runs Hale Mauliola on a contract with the city.

Another 54 clients left Hale Mauliola on their own. Of them, 38 “simply abandoned their units,” and 16 ended up back on the street, Carvalho said.

This week 64 people were living in Hale Mauliola. The typical client spends an average of 60 days there. The shortest stay to date has been 14 days.

But people, like the Gohiers, with severe money problems represent the biggest challenge in moving out of Hale Mauliola and into a permanent home, Carvalho said.

Carvalho grew up helping Clay Gohier and other beachboys in Waikiki and considers him a calabash uncle.

Gohier is a colon cancer survivor and recently had an operation on a badly infected leg. He collects $700 per month in disability payments and $200 per month in food assistance. Verena Gohier collects $300 per month in food assistance.

There’s no way they could afford even a studio apartment near Waikiki, so their only hope was the city’s Housing First program, which requires them to pay 30 percent of their income toward their rent. The city pays the balance on their $1,250-per-month apartment for up to two years.

The idea is that the Gohiers will eventually be able to save enough money for an apartment they can afford on their own.

Given their limited income, Carvalho acknowledged that it will be a struggle to keep the Gohiers housed once their Housing First agreement ends.

“We have these Uncle Clays of our community on fixed incomes that are so low while rents are going up that they’re going to end up homeless, and that’s not fair to them,” Carvalho said.

To help people like the Gohiers, First Hawaiian Bank will begin teaching budgeting skills and financial management courses at Hale Mauliola at no cost to residents, starting Sept. 7.

Uncle Clay, who is three-quarters Hawaiian, grew up in Windward Oahu and never got beyond the seventh grade. “I liked the water so much,” he said by way of explanation.

He loves taking tourists on outrigger canoe rides in Waikiki, but ended up living in his Ford Windstar van, which he eventually had to sell.

Like many of Oahu’s homeless, he had zero interest in entering a homeless shelter, so he spent 10 years crashing on friends’ couches but mostly slept outside around the Kapahulu area.

“I couldn’t pay rent,” he said. “No mo’ money.”

Then last year he reached out to Carvalho after seeing him in news reports talking about the nation’s highest per-capita rate of homelessness.

“I said, ‘I know that guy,’” Gohier remembered. “Nobody had helped me but Kimo.”

Mayor Kirk Caldwell has emphasized that Hale Mauliola is much more than a collection of shipping containers to house people.

On-site social service workers from IHS work with Hale Mauliola’s residents through a concept known as a “navigation center” to find permanent housing while often dealing with a range of problems — from substance abuse to physical abuse to an all-too-common inability to keep up with the high cost of living in Hawaii.

After he and Verena were placed in Hale Mauliola as part of the original wave of clients, Clay became a favorite of Caldwell whenever the mayor visited.

Last week Clay proudly showed off the potted lai (ti) plant Caldwell gave him, which now sits in his living room.

The mayor’s office said the plant symbolizes “good luck, protection and healing” and hinted that it also represents the 10 years that Uncle Clay spent on the street.

The plant, Caldwell spokesman Jay Parasco said, “survives and thrives in hot and cold climates, rain or shine.”

In a statement, Caldwell told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that “Hale Mauliola was created as Hawaii’s first Housing Navigation Center in order to place people like Uncle Clay and Auntie Verena into permanent housing. Different people have different needs, and it takes an entire team — government, nonprofit and private sector — working together to navigate each client into housing. After years of living unsheltered, the Gohiers took a leap of faith and came to Hale Mauliola. Today, they have a home.”

Gracie Suaglar, an IHS housing specialist, continues to work with the Gohiers and said Uncle Clay’s health scares helped motivate him to get off the street.

“He said if something happened to Uncle, he wanted his wife to have a safe place to call home,” Suaglar said.

Clay has since reconnected with some of the homeless people he used to see in Waikiki, and they’re curious about life in Hale Mauliola, which he highly recommends.

But he’s both realistic and optimistic about whether a program that worked for him will work for others who are homeless in Hawaii.

“Some people you can get off the street,” he said. “Some people you can’t. But we’re here now, and we’re going to make it work. Because I never gave up hope.”


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  • The first 3/4 of this article seemed a little rosy and optimistic, considering the facts: Even with the city helping this one couple pay the apartment rent, they’ll have barely enough to eat—and will be in trouble if any unexpected expenses come up. Budgeting tips from First Hawaiian Bank won’t help people who live hand-to-mouth save any money. And when the “Housing First” program stops helping them pay rent in two years, guess where Uncle and Auntie will end up. Right.

    Toward the bottom of the page, Kirk Caldwell’s name pops up, and from there on it becomes a campaign ad for Kirk. Does he actually bring gifts to every Hale Mauliola resident? Or just to this high profile example?

    I hope the SA won’t delete this article and republish to restart with a whitewashed comment board. I don’t want to repost this again. Auwe.

    • Million, I agree with you. In a few short years, this poor couple will be homeless again. They just don’t have enough income to survive almost anywhere in America, much less Hawaii. Maybe that’s what happens when you “love the water too much” and forsake your responsibility to make a living wage to take care of yourself. Maybe that’s what happens when you get paid “under the table” all your life and not pay into Social Security. This is EXACTLY when working for cash all your life comes back and bites you in the a.s.s. Life is tough to survive. Being old, poor, homeless, unemployed, in bad health in Hawaii is a trifecta of bad things to come. It’s not a trifecta; it’s a HEXA-FECTA. Possible solution? Verena needs to find a full time job and be employed for the next 18 years. What was HER reason to be employed all these years?Like cleaning house? Get into hotel housekeeping. Work for 18 years, steady income with benefits and that magical pension for the rest of your life. Can’t do that? Start your own housecleaning business. Advertise on Craigslist. Don’t forget to pay into Social Security, to bolster your retirement income. Uncle Clay(aka The Grasshopper) should try to find any part-time job. Sadly, this disabled guy is so “bus up”, I don’t think he can work anymore. Maybe panhandle a few hours a day, every day, will make a few hundred dollars a month. This guy, sad to say, is in bad shape, however you look at his situation. This is what happens to old “grasshoppers”. If you’re one, life in Hawaii will pound you in the ground. I will pray for this couple, that their hard luck will change.

    • Kirk likes to pickup high profile examples to then tout when making his speeches or campaigning. Ya, he wants to associate with the beach boy cuzKirk a,ways wants to point out his own surfer dude persona. Did you also hear he was raised in Waianae? He’s so local ya know? But then he’s a multi millionaire. There the resemblance ends.

  • Bob, are you kidding me,”First Hawaiian Bank will begin teaching budgeting skills and financial management courses at Hale Mauliola at no cost to residents,” for people who have no money and probably will never have any. FHB should get real and stop selling services to the very poor about the merits of a saving WHEN THE CHILDREN ARE HUNGRY. FHB if you really want to do something, give each of the 214 resettled a matching incentive up to $500 to start a savings account that can’t be drawn on for 2 years. Time to put more skin in the game, especially after a great IPO.

    • Would these “classes” be of the same caliber that section 8 people are required to attend? The one’s where the attendees goof off and just look around the room “doing their time” to meet attendance requirements? Those classes?

      • Very good idea, and maybe a mobile employment resource that get’s it started and include a 12 month bus/raoil pass as long as they are employed. Right on Mr. Reason!

    • If all banks could teach people how to get government backing, government insurance, to operate a largely privately held concern that: holds your money (making all information open to the government that backs them by giving out your financial information just in case you are cheating the said government of their “fair share in taxes”), uses your money to invest and make money for the bank and its investors, and then pays you FRACTIONS OF A PERCENT to justify it all. NO ONE WOULD BE HOMELESS.

  • This article is a story about life choices. This is about a young man that was brought up to appreciate the ocean over eduction, and mother time caught up with him.

    • I’m sort of with you there LKK, but at some point you gotta grow up and stop being a drag on society. I’m still a Surfer Dude and I still appreciate the ocean, but I’m also a wage earner, bill payer and someone who takes nothing from anybody because I grew up and learned to be responsible. Clay obviously has no sense of reality.

    • As a young lad I loved surfing. Riding the waves without the sound of motors and accelerating through the blue curls. But something was bothering me. All this good life was too good to be true. I was nearing graduation and was worried what I would do for a living. I would move out of my family’s house and need some kind of income so I could continue surfing. So went to UH Manoa and go my degree, but it wasn’t enough. Everybody got a bachelor’s degree. Needed something better that would get me hired and enable me to finance the best kind of life possible. Had to do it because I was getting tired of busing tables. I’m better than that. I stood on the sands of Waikiki Beach and make a promise to myself. Get into Medical School, make a lot of money, and then surf all you like. I am happy to say I did accomplish all that, but was so busy being dedicated to my patients that I never had the time to surf. Now I am happily retired in East Honolulu. I still don’t surf because it is too crowded and the new breed of surfer is so selfish and rude. So now I travel around the world taking pictures, eating wonderful exotic food like Andy Bourdain, meet some women who are more beautiful than the beach bunnies, and relaxing on a comfortable beach chair getting massages while watching the sun set before I giggle asking myself, “What shall I do tonight?” I think I did good.

  • “Uncle Clay, who is three-quarters Hawaiian, grew up in Windward Oahu and never got beyond the seventh grade. “I liked the water so much,” he said by way of explanation.”>>< So THEY get to make the bad decisions while WE pay for those decisions. What a system. This whole housing program is doing NOTHING more than delaying the inevitable. His income will NOT go up and no one will ever rent to that low of income. Meanwhile taxpayers money burns until then.

      • kk808, Verena should find a job and keep it for the next 18 years. There are agencies who can help her find employment. Hopefully, there’s a pension for her when she retires. Uncle Clay will be dead by the time she retires at 75. With her pension and Social Security, she should be able to rent a room and be independent…..I hope. As for that slacker, find community service work for him to do. I’ve got a BRILLIANT idea! Have him do inspirational speeches at our middle schools and high schools! “STAY IN SCHOOL!! Don’t be like me. I quit school, surfed all day, hung out at the beach and the park all night.. I was a laidback/slacker/cruiser. Now I’m a cruiser/slacker/grasshopper. Don’t be like me. This is what happens to kids who don’t try their best in school. I’m old/poor/broke/homeless/sick/disabled, with no future. I don’t have money to cruise and party. My looks and surfer body is gone. I’m a noncontributing member of society. Your taxes support my meager lifestyle. I don’t have a car, or any extra money to go Vegas and gamble. Please don’t be like me. The DOE can pay this guy to scare Hawaii kids straight!

      • Nothing more than he was willing to do for himself. People are responsible for themselves in the decisions they make in their own lives. He quit school in the 7th grade. How many years did he have to remedy that situation and he simply “chose” not to. Forfeited jobs that could have helped with his healthcare expenses of today. The expenses we are ALSO paying for. Taxpayers should give him free housing now? Do? NOTHING. Absolutely nothing other than make sure that his CHOSEN lifestyle does not effect responsible citizens.

    • Wow, you are a mess. If that is all you have to say, they why do you live in Hawaii? You must have issues fitting into a culture of caring for underserved or maybe you faked us out. Hood winked?

  • People who made poor choices, have poor attitudes, and/or are struggling on the mainland love these articles. Especially with the cold winter coming. Thanks Mr. Caldwell.

  • “We have these Uncle Clays of our community on fixed incomes that are so low while rents are going up that they’re going to end up homeless, and that’s not fair to them,” Carvalho said. All you “grasshoppers” take heed! Life is not fair to you. Life in Hawaii is brutal to slackers, and this guy is the poster child for slackers. Life is fair to just a few.

  • If I remember correctly, you don’t need a cable box for TV. Who’s paying for the cable box? Why? There are HD antennas that pick up the local channels for free. Does someone “need” 200+ excuses (channels) to prevent them from looking for a job?

  • Anybody else concerned that “Verena Gohier” is receiving food stamps while her name is non-existent on the internet – other than this story? Is anyone else concerned that they are husband and wife and yet receive two SEPARATE allotments of food stamps for the one household? No flags here?

    • sound, they’ll be eating very well with $500 worth of SNAP benefits, that’s for sure. Who knows if they’ll sell their surplus food stamps to supplement their income? That way, they can pay for cable TV.

      • $500 a month comes out to $17 a day. Can two people get fat off that?

        Or maybe they can go to Alan Wong’s for a night, live off the memories the rest of the month.

        • Million, yes, two people on a $500 monthly food budget can definitely get fat! I’m presuming the sensible question is if a $500 food budget will sustain two formerly homeless adults for a month. My wife and I are empty-nesters; we spend less than $500 on food. That might include 16 plate lunches, Zippy’s meals, having company for dinner and take-out for dinner. It helps stretch the budget if your partner eats like a bird. The saving graces are doggy-bagging, sharing one huge Korean plate lunch special, cooking a pot of stew or chowder and eating that for several days. Sometimes we eat a huge lunch, which makes dinner unnecessary. Granola cereal with fruit and nuts go a long way. This is even for times when we don’t feel like cooking dinner. Yes, eating steak and shrimp on a $500 food budget is easily do-able.

  • Glad they are off the streets and safe for at least 2 years.

    The big question is why do we NOT teach budgeting skills and financial management courses in HIGH SCHOOL and sooner ?

    this should be a mandatory class and its a shame the youth are not taught in school. And yes parents should teach this but most don’t and most parents do not know themselves.

  • It is highly unlikely that they will be able to find a rental they can afford on their current income. He doesn’t look like he can work and is on disability, so its on her to get a job!

  • I feel bad for the old fella’ He’s probably a good guy. But does anybody believe they will be able to “save enough money for an apartment they can afford on their own.” He can’t work for obvious reasons. His wife maybe can work but it doesn’t appear she has any skills and is no spring chicken either. They’ll stay there for 2 years while the taxpayers…uh I mean the feds and city pay 100% of their rent and living expenses.

    • CEI, here’s the best-case scenario: Verena should get a full time job IMMEDIATELY. All she has to do is work long enough to make her “quarters”. Then she’ll qualify for a substantial(for them) amount of Social Security(SS) benefits. She can apply for SS at age 62, while still working fulltime. No matter if she’s making minimum wage or whatever, collect the SS and pay the penalties, if necessary(They say they’ll reimburse you for said penalties in your future SS checks). Between Grasshopper’s disability and SNAP, and her SNAP, SS and paycheck, they can make it. These guys definitely qualify for Section 8, so I hope they applied for it. This couple MUST! learn how to budget and save. The day will come when they have to leave this sanctuary. When it’s time to find another place to leave…..think “government-subsidized housing projects”. If unavailable, forget about renting your own apartment. These guys can barely afford to pay just the utilities! Rent a safe room on the bus line or close enough to walk to work. Social Security will be there for them; Clay won’t live long. If he’s lucky, he’ll end up in a Federally-subsidized care home. Verena should be fine, working into her 70s while collecting her paycheck, SS and SNAP. More than likely, she won’t save enough to replace her paycheck. I can’t even imagine the worst-case scenarios. Where are the Gohiers’ families, anyway?

  • First Hawaiian Bank will teach old dogs old tricks, too old and too late. 2 years assistance on rent and the city think these two, who have been on the street for 10 years, will be able to save enough money to go it alone, not going to happen. this couple need “income”, disability and food assistance is not income.

  • I read all the “POST” on this article and nobody believes there will be a happy ending to this story, like watching reruns on TV you know what is coming.

  • Unfortunately this type of situation is what happens when you fail to get a proper education and acquire marketable job skills in order to get real world employment instead of hanging at the beach…..

    • If that was my brother and we got along ok, I’d let him and his wife live in my house forever. Just give me all your food stamps and disability checks. All you can eat, cruise, slack off, sleep and watch TV all day long, while I go to work. LOL, the $700 is for my wife to put up with you. Your wife can clean my house and cook the meals. If you need to go somewhere, we’ll drive you there. If you need extra money, you can panhandle, while Verena gets a full time job. When the time comes, we’ll put you in a nursing home, and your wife can still live with us forever. When my wife and I get old and sick, she can be our caregiver. If she outlives us, my kids will let her live in the house forever. Just keep the house spotless, give them your food stamps and your Social Security check. No worries. Why? Because you’re family I get along with, and I’m such a nice guy, lol.

  • Captain Clay piloted canoes and taught thousands to surf — even President Clinton. What makes Waikiki beaches different from any world class resort is the beach boys. They are the face of Hawaii culture to the world. They teach water safety to adults and kids alike.

    The beach stands make a fortune and pay big rent to the city. By rights they should pay the beach boys a wage and offer benefits just any other job.

    Captain Clay and Verena deserve more respect and our city/state/federal taxes should be able to provide an adequate safety net for them and others similarly situated.

    • Unfortunately being a beach boy is not real world employment which provides job security,medical coverage and retirement benefits….it’s an idyllic life that we all want to have but not realistic…..

      • resident, it’d make for an excellent retirement job, aka “hobby job” or “volunteer work with tips”. For fun and pocket change, not a “real” job.

  • This is the way it should work. But it won’t if they don’t want to get off the street. Even this couple “chose” not to get help for 10 years. You have the carrot. Now you need the stick.

    • Blue, Clay will be dead of old age in 10 years, as maybe will I. Verena will probably hook up with someone else, be homeless or be cared for by taxpayers. My widow will probably hook up with someone else, or live independently or with family. Life will go on the way it has been going on.