No one knows how many homeless people are sleeping in their cars each night on Oahu, but the Institute for Human Services wants to get as many of them as possible into the city’s new Hale Mauliola community on Sand Island, where they can live in converted shipping containers while getting help finding long-term housing.
So IHS is launching a campaign to encourage neighbors who see homeless people living in their cars to refer them to IHS, which operates Hale Mauliola for the city.
Neighbors who do not feel comfortable making direct contact can email or call IHS with a description or photo of the vehicle, along with times and a location where it can be found.
IHS outreach workers will then try to convince the occupants to give Hale Mauliola a try, where pets are accepted and on-site social service assistance is available to help find permanent homes.
“We would like the community to be an extension of our outreach,” said IHS spokesman Kimo Carvalho.
Last year, 100 IHS clients reported living in their vehicles before moving into IHS’ shelters.
And since the start of 2016, IHS has received 37 complaints from neighbors about homeless people living in cars.
But neither the U.S. Census nor the annual national point-in-time count homeless survey specifically tally the number of homeless people living in vehicles.
“No one knows how many there are, but we know they’re parking in the community and in residential areas,” Carvalho said.
Living in a car can directly send a person to the street because they often rack up parking citations and violations for expired registrations or safety checks that can get their vehicle towed, resulting in additional costs that homeless people typically can’t afford, Carvalho said.
“It snowballs and just gets worse,” Carvalho said. “Often that’s the point when they come to IHS.”
Even with lower gas prices, AAA Hawaii said it still costs a national average of $8,558 annually to operate a car, according to AAA’s 2016 Your Driving Costs study. That breaks down to 57 cents a mile or $713 each month, according to an email from Elaine Beno, spokeswoman for AAA Hawaii.
IHS case workers will teach homeless car owners how to clear up their violations and citations, along with helping them manage their finances.
“Once they understand how to manage their car better, their parking citations, their expired registration, they learn that it actually builds savings down the road,” Carvalho said.
Anyone who wants to move into Hale Mauliola with a car has to provide proof of ownership. But Hale Mauliola will still welcome vehicles with expired registrations and outstanding citations, Carvalho said.
Councilman Joey Manahan, whose district includes Sand Island, has been critical of Hale Mauliola.
But Manahan likes IHS’ campaign to get homeless people out of their cars and on their way to long-term housing through Hale Mauliola.
“A lot of people who are sleeping in their cars in different places would take advantage of that,” Manahan said. “I think that’s going to be great for Hale Mauliola. A lot of people could be helped who are parking on the street, trying to find a safe spot.”
Barbara Allison-Simpson and her two Jack Russell terrier-mix dogs, Dixie and Sophie, had been living in Allison-Simpsons’s 2002 Ford Focus from Feb. 17 until they moved into Hale Mauliola on March 10.
Allison-Simpson, a self-described “Navy widow” and mother of an Army soldier, became homeless at the age of 72 in November when her son was reassigned from Schofield Barracks and her life spiraled.
Allison-Simpson had been sleeping in her car behind her church, Trinity Missionary Baptist Church near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, until she made the mistake of parking out front one night.
“The police came by and told me I couldn’t be there,” Allison-Simpson said.
So she drove to a Presbyterian church she knows in Mililani, parked her car and used the bathroom at a nearby baseball field.
But in four weeks living in her car with her dogs, Allison-Simpson never had a shower.
“You can’t eat regularly,” she said. “You can’t cook. I lost weight. I lost muscle tone.”
Rickey “Pops” Crowell, 57, moved into Hale Mauliola six weeks ago. Like Allison-Simpson, Crowell parks his 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix inside a secure area guarded around the clock.
Crowell had been homeless for three years and more recently was living out of his Grand Prix until he was referred to Hale Mauliola.
In three months living in his Pontiac, Crowell was robbed twice.
“Every little noise is scary,” he said. “There are people that want to rob us and beat us up. Even during the day you’re scared. Living in your car, you have no restroom. So you urinate in public. You have no trash can, so it goes in the street, as well.”
When he spent his second night in his Grand Prix in a Punchbowl neighborhood, Crowell said he knew that neighbors were aware because they yelled at him when Honolulu police surrounded his car.
“The neighbor came out and told the cops, ‘We don’t want these dirty people.’”
Then the neighbor, he said, turned to Crowell and said, “‘You could be a child molester or a burglar casing our place.’ The cops told me that if I ever came back I’d be immediately arrest- ed and my car would be towed.”
Crowell ended up sleeping in his car in the parking lot of the Iwilei Kmart — directly across from IHS — until he moved into Hale Mauliola.
On Thursday, Crowell signed a lease on a one-bedroom apartment in Kalihi.
“It’s a blessed day,” he said.
Crowell now thinks that every homeless person living in a car should take advantage of the offer from IHS.
“You’ll get a good night’s sleep for a change,” he said.
YOU CAN HELP
To refer a homeless person living in a car to the city’s Hale Mauliola shipping container community on Sand Island, call the Institute for Human Services at 447-2900.
Or email a description or photos of the vehicle, including location and time when it can be found, to firstname.lastname@example.org. IHS outreach workers will attempt to make contact with the car’s occupants.
Information about Hale Mauliola can be found at ihshawaii.org/halemauliola; neighbors can provide the information to homeless people they see living in vehicles.