Even as Wahiawa’s homeless count appears to have doubled over the past 11 months, state Rep. Marcus Oshiro maintains that efforts underway could serve as a template for other rural communities struggling to address island homelessness.
Helping Wahiawa’s homeless
Fourteen social service agencies will help homeless people connect to benefits and housing, and help them obtain documents and picture IDs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. today at Wahiawa District Park.
The Wahiawa Community Based Development Organization will spend $75,000 of its $452,000 federal Housing and Urban Development grant to purchase a van to provide nursing services for senior citizens and homebound residents and — at Oshiro’s urging — will now also include outreach to homeless people.
Last week Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Whitmore-Poamoho) spent two days with outreach workers poking around the bridges, bushes and shorelines of Wahiawa, counting and meeting longtime and newly arrived homeless people. They would welcome someone checking on their health, Oshiro said.
“Their health status dramatically declines over time, and by the time they get to the acute stage, it gets very costly,” Oshiro said. “A traveling nurse can help fill the gap for those living outside of shelters. That’s one service that the homeless would really appreciate.”
The Wahiawa Community Based Development Organization hopes to have its “Holoholo Truck” on the road by March, said program coordinator Jeff Alameida.
The organization is still trying to figure out what kind of vehicle to buy and would welcome technical advice.
When it gets out into the public, the Holoholo Truck is intended to be a Wahiawa marketing tool that will include a “mobile farmers’ market” where Wahiawa-grown produce will be on display. Another door will house a “mobile Wahiawa chamber of commerce.” A third will be a “mobile retail incubator” where Wahiawa businesses can display their products.
The fourth door, the passenger seat, will contain a nurse who can administer injections and perform blood pressure tests and other procedures that can be conducted in public, Alameida said.
The organization is looking for a partner to provide the health care services, Alameida said.
“Something of this nature hasn’t been done in Hawaii, from what we can tell, especially coming from the community-based perspective,” Alameida said.
At the same time, the nonprofit group Surfing the Nations is building a $1.5 million, 4,600-square-foot, two-story “Community Outreach and Training Center” on Kamehameha Highway on the site of an old brothel behind the former Top Hat Bar, said Cindy Bauer, who co-founded Surfing the Nations in 1997 with her husband, Tom.
The building will be used for a variety of services to help the poor and underserved and will include a 2,000-square-foot hygiene center where homeless people can take a shower, use a separate bathroom and sink, and get food and clothes — especially clothes for job interviews.
The city provided a grant of nearly $100,000 that will pay for the hygiene center, a food pantry and an office for pro bono health care professionals, an eye doctor, social workers and others who want to help, Bauer said.
Surfing the Nations already feeds more than 3,000 people per week across Oahu, and the new center will expand its efforts to help people including at-risk youth and Wahiawa’s growing homeless population.
“I don’t think there’s anything else like this on this side of town,” Bauer said.
The Bauers hope to open the center in January.
“Wahiawa at its core is still a small country community where neighbors support each other and know each other,” said Oshiro, the state representative. “We still have those unique plantation roots among us, and that tradition of caring for each other underlies all of our discussions. We have concerns about the negative elements of the homeless, but still we don’t want to turn a blind eye. We’re tough farmers and independent-minded folks who want to address it best we can with what we know and what we have. I’m very optimistic that we can lead the county, we can lead the state in appropriate solutions to address this crisis.”
Oshiro spoke to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser before he led a packed town hall meeting on homelessness Tuesday night at the Wahiawa Hongwanji Mission, where residents heard the latest efforts to deal with Wahiawa’s homelessness.
During a previous town hall meeting in August, residents were told that a Jan. 25 “point in time count” found 60 homeless people living in Wahiawa. Tuesday night, Scott Fujii, interim director of PHOCUSED, a nonprofit advocacy group, told the town hall meeting that nearly 94 percent of the homeless who were counted in January had been homeless longer than a year — or were homeless more than four times in three years, making them “chronically homeless.”
More than 33 percent reported having mental health problems.
But Oshiro’s own census last week counted 120 people as more homeless are pushed out of urban Honolulu.
And he said he thinks the actual number of homeless around Lake Wilson, Wahiawa town and Whitmore Village is actually bigger because he and the outreach workers were not able to access every area where he was told people are camping out.
Wahiawa is now clearly inheriting some of the people who were first swept out of Waikiki, downtown and Chinatown who then ended up in Kakaako, only to be swept again between September and October, Oshiro said.
“You’re starting to see more and more homeless appear within Wahiawa town itself, along Kilani and California avenues and Mango Street,” Oshiro said. “These are the new arrivals. They’re not setting up their encampments yet. They’re newly arrived trying to find their place. They’ve been moving around place to place for the last several years.”
Gov. David Ige has said that the same approach used to clean out the persistent Kakaako makai encampment will now be applied to Waianae, Wahiawa and Waimanalo, even as Ige figures out how to address new encampments that have sprung up along the Kakaako shoreline from Kewalo Basin Park to Point Panic to Kakaako Waterfront Park as people were forced out of Kakaako makai.
But Oshiro said projects underway in Wahiawa — and some still under discussion — could be applied throughout the islands, sometimes with the help of government money and sometimes without.
He asked landlords at Tuesday night’s meeting to consider renting to homeless people because the so-called Housing First concept, which comes with social service case managers and guaranteed rental payments, “makes sense, whether you’re on the side of Mother Teresa, being kind and compassionate — or you’re looking at the taxpayer cost-benefit analysis of how it works and functions.”
For homeless encampments, Oshiro also likes the idea of enforcing systems and rules such as those being applied in mainland tent cities in places such as Seattle.
“We already have those de facto situations,” Oshiro said. “So it would be nice to organize them and have some semblance of rules and community, most of all.”
He also pleaded with skilled laborers with licenses and training to volunteer to shore up run-down units around Wahiawa to keep them livable and improve conditions for the often low-income residents.
Such a program might also be used to let the workers themselves live in affordable housing, Oshiro said.
“Let’s keep the housing inventory up and assist in keeping whatever rental units we have inhabitable and usable,” Oshiro said.
For a community that has no homeless shelters from Mililani to the North Shore, all of the ideas percolating out of Wahiawa to deal with homelessness represent “the type of spirit that we have in this community,” Oshiro said. “We’re not waiting for government.”