There was a time when Alice Greenwood looked down and scoffed at the homeless. Then she became homeless herself.
Greenwood, who died July 8 at the age of 71, not only pulled herself up off Maili Beach, but went on to become a high-profile advocate for the area’s homeless community as well as a champion for many other issues affecting the Leeward coast.
“She was a role model,” said Patty Teruya, a 22-year member of the Nanakuli-Maili Neighborhood Board. “The bottom line is that she made a very big difference.”
As a spokeswoman for the Concerned Elders of Waianae and Nani o Waianae, Greenwood fought social and environmental injustice, researching issues and lobbying at myriad neighborhood board, City Council, state commission and legislative meetings.
She was one of three Oahu homeless mothers who won a 2008 lawsuit to protect their children’s right to a stable education, including not having to change schools if they move to a shelter and receiving help with transportation to school.
In recent years she fought an industrial park planned for Lualualei, pushed for the creation of the state’s environmental court and served on the board of directors of the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii.
Greenwood, a full-blooded Native Hawaiian who served on the Oahu Island Burial Council, also was publisher of a monthly newspaper known as Street Beat, described as news for and by Hawaii’s people without housing.
Alice Ululani Greenwood, born on Oahu, was married briefly twice before spending 25 years with James Hatchie, a retired Marine who took on the role of father to her children. Before Hatchie died in 2001, he persuaded Greenwood to raise his newly born nephew, Makalii Hatchie, whom she later adopted.
Greenwood told Leslie Wilcox on PBS Hawaii in 2014 that she used to call the homeless lazy.
But in June 2005 the house she had rented for 35 years was sold, and she couldn’t afford a rent increase that soared to nearly $1,000 from $300 a month.
That’s when she and Makalii moved to a tent at Maili Beach Park. She was at the park for nine months — becoming a leader among the homeless on the beach, taking on the responsibility of cleaning the restrooms and talking to her homeless neighbors about their rights — before moving to an emergency shelter and then into transitional housing.
“She understood she was a great spokesperson for the homeless, because she was on the other side and all of a sudden it was her problem,” said Will Hoover, a former Honolulu Advertiser newspaper reporter who covered the Waianae Coast.
Lucy Gay, director of Waianae Educational Opportunities, remembers Greenwood as a star student in her kupuna computer and community engagement class at Leeward Community College in the early 2000s.
“She was a woman in search of justice, whether it was social, environmental, educational or whatever,” Gay said. “Her strength was that she knew how to research using a computer.”
Cynthia Rezentes, chairwoman of the Nanakuli-Maili Neighborhood Board, said Greenwood’s passion for the community burned bright.
“The love of her life was the Waianae Coast,” Rezentes said. “She was a treasure for the community. She did whatever she could to make sure things benefited the community and was not a detriment to the community.“
Gay said Greenwood was always open to learning.
“She was a woman who didn’t let the circumstances of her life define her,” she said. “You could see that in the way she carried herself. There was always a pride in the way she walked and in the way she carried herself.”
A celebration of life is planned for Saturday at the same park where Greenwood was homeless: Maili Beach Park. The celebration will start at 11 a.m., followed by services at noon.