Program prevents former inmates from becoming homeless
  • Tuesday, December 18, 2018
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Hawaii News

Program prevents former inmates from becoming homeless

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Waikiki Health has been assisting newly released inmates to transition successfully into communities through its Pu’uhonua Program.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    “That’s the No. 1 key thing: There is no housing for our offenders coming out.”

    Francine Dudoit-Tagupa

    Program director, Pu‘uhonua

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Waikiki Health continues to exceed expectations in helping prisoners who would otherwise end up homeless once they’re out.

Waikiki Health’s Pu‘uhonua (safe place for healing) Program planned to help 480 prisoners between Oct. 1, 2017, and Sept. 30.

Instead, 970 prisoners went through the program.

Out of the 970 prisoners, 94 — or fewer than 10 percent — have gone back to jail or prison. Those 94 went back for violations of their terms of parole or probation — not for committing new crimes, according to Waikiki Health.

Program Director Francine Dudoit-Tagupa estimates that “95 percent for sure” of Oahu prisoners re-enter island society with no job, no place to live and none of the critical documents — such as a birth certificate, Social Security card or other government identification — they need to get housing and employment.

Thanks to a grant from the Hawaii Medical Service Association’s Community Grant Program, the Pu‘uhonua Program continues to work with defendants to get them government documents, MedQuest health insurance, substance abuse treatment, jobs and temporary and, ideally, permanent housing.

The Pu‘uhonua Program helps prisoners from all of Oahu’s jails and prisons, including the Federal Detention Center, working with them before and after they are released.

A former Oahu Community Correctional Center prisoner named Isaac — he asked that his last name not be used — had been living in the entrenched homeless encampment at Waimanalo Beach Park for five years when he was arrested for burglary, followed by a seven-month term at OCCC.

While he was convicted of burglary, Isaac, 44, said, “The money was for drugs” — specifically methamphetamine.

When he was released on probation Aug. 13, Isaac said he would have gone back to being homeless in Waimanalo, with no job and little optimism.

“I nevah had nothing,” he said during an interview Wednesday with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in Dudoit-Tagupa’s office at Waikiki Health.

Instead, after attending OCCC classes led by Waikiki Health’s Cheryl Moreno, Isaac used his new one-year bus pass to head straight to Waikiki Health after he was released.

Waikiki Health then placed him in its Next Step Shelter in Kakaako and got him a job as a janitor cleaning Kewalo Basin and at Kakaako Waterfront Park next door.

He’s gotten his government IDs back, received a $40 gift card to buy clothes at Goodwill Hawaii and is enrolled in substance abuse treatment that helps him stay clean and sober.

“Hundred-something days now,” Isaac said of his newfound sobriety.

Isaac used to work at sea as a commercial fisherman and would love to get a job on land working in a fish market.

At the same time, he dreams of getting a permanent home of his own.

“That’s the No. 1 key thing,” Dudoit-Tagupa said. “There is no housing for our offenders coming out.”

During a Pu‘uhonua Program class at OCCC in September, Moreno read a hand-written letter to other prisoners from a former inmate.

“Cheryl can help w/$40 voucher for Goodwill + day bus passes. Mine was at the front gate when I left,” the former prisoner wrote. “I’m at Next Step. I’m busy getting drug assessment, Social card and Birth Certificate, taxes, etc. etc.”

The letter was signed “Much Love + Aloha.”

Dudoit-Tagupa also serves as Waikiki Health’s director of Native Hawaiian healing, and the Pu‘uhonua Program initially was aimed at Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander prisoners, who are disproportionately incarcerated compared with the general population.

Out of the 970 prisoners who most recently went through the Pu‘uhonua Program, Native Hawaiians (454) represented the largest number, followed by Caucasians (132), Pacific Islanders (116), Filipinos (106), Japanese (67), African-Americans (29), Hispanics (15), Native Americans (11) and “other” (40).

They ranged in age from 19 to 72 and included 30 women.

Once the HMSA grant runs out Oct. 30, Dudoit-Tagupa hopes to secure new funding to expand the program to neighbor island prisons.

“Everybody deserves a second chance,” she said.

BY THE NUMBERS

480

Number of Oahu prisoners that Waikiki Health’s Pu‘uhonua Program hoped to help this year

970

Actual number of prisoners who went through the program

19-72

Age range of Pu‘uhonua Program participants

30

Number of female participants

454

Number of Native Hawaiian participants

132

Number of Caucasian participants

116

Number of Pacific Islander participants

Source: Waikiki Health

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