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Hawaii News

Agencies, church groups and individuals care for Kakaako camp residents

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DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM
Social service out- reach programs, as well as individuals, help people in the homeless encampment in Kakaako. Carissa Onuma, who volunteers to help the homeless, held 3-year-old Keoneen on Friday. Keoneen has grown fond of Onuma over the course of Onu ma’s visits and likes to give and receive hugs. Volunteer Brianna Lovett, in background, talked with Tauai Olson, far left, and Tanako Yug. Earlier, Onuma and Lovett had given some toiletries to another family.
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as well as individuals
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DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM
Amber Coiley, who lives in the homeless encampment in Kakaako, used a wagon to take bags of cans and bottles to a nearby recycling center on Friday. Coiley moved from Hilo to Oahu to get away from domestic abuse. She was living in a rental unit in Kaimuki, but when her new partner was jailed she lost her home and ended up living on the street in Kakaako.

The hundreds of homeless people crammed together in makeshift structures in Kakaako are hardly left to fend for themselves.

Outreach workers from a dozen or so social service agencies — along with state public health nurses — regularly fan out across the homeless encampment around the University of Hawaii’s medical school and Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center to check on the mentally ill and those with substance abuse problems, and help connect families to medical and dental services.

There are church groups such as Third Day Sanctuary, which brought in clothes and food on Saturday. And individuals such as Carissa Onuma, 25, and Brianna Lovett, 23, who show up every Friday morning with donated clothes and toiletries.

Last Friday Onuma and Lovett handed out stuffed animals, shampoo and baby powder for some of the toddlers living among the tents and tarps.

Onuma has read the stories about rising crime in the encampment, including the June 29 attack on state Rep. Tom Brower (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana-Kakaako).

But she has a different perspective.

“There’s good here, too,” Onuma said as she held a 3-year-old girl named Keoneen. “Lots of good.”

The efforts are welcomed.

“I appreciate it when they come and help with what I need,” said Serafi Al, 54, who has lived in a tent on Olemehani Street in front of the Children’s Discovery Center since 2011. “They ask me if I’m all right, if I’m OK.”

Amber Coiley’s three children have been offered food and clothes, which she appreciates because she recently had her gas-powered generator, DVR and TV stolen from her tarpaulin-covered structure on the Diamond Head end of Olemehani Street.

Coiley’s family doesn’t need any more clothes. But since money’s tight, the donated food is appreciated.

“Some people bring pizzas, some people bring McDonald’s,” Coiley said as she loaded up a child’s wagon filled with cans that she planned to redeem at a nearby recycling center.

The number of people at the encampment has grown exponentially in the wake of stepped-up enforcement of the city’s ban on sitting or lying on sidewalks and other restrictions intended to crack down on the number of homeless people in areas such as Waikiki and Chinatown.

The influx of homeless people in Kakaako has created issues that range from increasing crime and disturbances to generally unsafe conditions. The attack on Brower as he took photographs to document conditions at the encampment drew widespread attention and shone a spotlight on the problem.

Ten state public health nurses regularly visit the encampment to offer care for people with “complex, chronic medical conditions,” said Joan Takamori, Public Health Nursing branch chief.

“We work with them where they live,” Takamori said. “For this population in Kakaako, we visit them at their tent. A lot of them do have insurance but it might be challenging to get them to a doctor. If you have four or five children it’s not easy to take all of them to a physician’s appointment, or there may be a number of physicians if they have children with complex, chronic conditions. We’re basically helping them try to problem solve ways to get them medical services.”

Outreach workers from the Waikiki Health Center, Institute for Human Services, U.S. Vets, Mental Health Kokua and others gather every other week at Catholic Charities to discuss how to best help the clients they’re working with in the encampment.

They all work from the same uniform assessment form that was ushered in three years ago by the former state homeless coordinator Colin Kippen, said Jason Espero, director of the Waikiki Health Center’s care-a-van program.

“That’s the best way to prevent duplication so each organization can share their resources so the client can really benefit,” said Espero, the son of state Sen. Will Espero (D, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point), chairman of the Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Committee.

“We let them know about medical and dental health services,” Jason Espero said. “We tell them about free mail service and can help them get their state ID, birth certificates and Social Security cards” — documents that homeless people need to get a job.

The whole point of the organized outreach effort by professional social workers is to help get people in the encampment ready for a life beyond the street.

“A lot of people and a lot of organizations are helping,” Espero said. “But the process takes time. People want immediate change. They want to see something done immediately with homelessness. It’s not as simple as one might think. People are in complex situations. Getting someone housed is not as easy as one might presume.”

Outreach workers from the CHOW (Community Health Outreach Work) Project hand out shampoo and toothpaste as a way to begin a relationship with the homeless in Kakaako, said CHOW’s executive director, Heather Lusk.

They’ll also exchange syringes instead of having needles left around the Children’s Discovery Center and Kakaako Waterfront Park, Lusk said.

“We’ve increased our outreach to ensure there are no needles out there and we’ll pick up any syringes we’re notified about to keep them out of the parks and areas where people will come in contact with them,” Lusk said.

While social service professionals have a long-term goal of finding homes for everyone in Kakaako, John Woolery of Third Day Sanctuary has a more basic motivation for coming into the encampment to offer food, clothes and prayer.

For critics who believe all of the outreach efforts only encourage homelessness, Woolery said they should ask themselves how Jesus would treat those living on the streets of Kakaako.

“We’re letting them know there’s hope,” Woolery said.

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