No less than Gov. David Ige and Mayor Kirk Caldwell have pleaded with Oahu landlords to open their rental properties to homeless tenants, but a group of McKinley High School students wants to add a more intimate and personal appeal.
They’re organizing a May 28 landlord summit at Catholic Charities’ Keeaumoku Street headquarters and plan to tell the stories of homeless people who would benefit from a landlord willing to take a chance on them.
“Homelessness is growing and growing and growing,” said Charleston Irebaria, a 17-year-old McKinley senior. “I felt we could make a difference in the community.”
There’s much work left to be done between now and May 28 for Irebaria and his classmates at McKinley’s Center for Tomorrow’s Leaders program: Lillyann Fredrick, Frank Pang and Naomi-Kehaulani Franklin, who are all 17; and 16-year-olds Donavan Albano and Joseph Abe. All are juniors at McKinley.
May 28’s Landlord Summit will be held from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Catholic Charities’ Clarence T.C. Ching Campus, 1822 Keeaumoku St.
Email mhslandlord firstname.lastname@example.org or call 594-0939 for more information.
They hope to send letters to 300 landlords who attended last year’s summit organized by Ige and Caldwell to get them to also turn out to the Catholic Charities event. Then they plan to follow up with personal phone calls on the eve of the summit.
The students are following the same so-called Housing First philosophy embraced by Ige and Caldwell, which includes social service help for homeless people’s problems, which could include counseling for mental illness and for drug and alcohol addiction.
But the students also hope to interview homeless clients at Kakaako’s Next Step shelter and use their stories to “appeal to the empathy of landlords,” Pang said.
Irebaria contends there’s a “big gap” between homeless and nonhomeless people.
By presenting landlords with the stories of Honolulu’s homeless, Irebaria said, “we wish to create a one-to-one connection.”
April Nakamura, McKinley’s student activities coordinator, who runs the Center for Tomorrow’s Leaders program, said, “People have done landlord summits before. But this group is not about just bringing landlords together and telling them to house people. They’re going to give landlords personal accounts and testimony of the homeless people. It’s more personal. … These kids have a big heart, and they’re very passionate about it.”
Homeless people regularly come to McKinley’s campus at night and on weekends, and Nakamura’s students said they’re regularly reminded to be alert.
But the students at McKinley’s Center for Tomorrow’s Leaders also know that each homeless person has an individual story, and Albano has even had family members who have been homeless.
For Albano “it’s more than just a personal thing,” he said. “It’s the thought that I can help.”
Fredrick added, “People need a second chance to restart their lives.”
The students form just one of six groups at McKinley’s Center for Tomorrow’s Leaders that are working on community projects. The projects include dealing with depression among senior citizens by, among other activities, hosting a “senior prom” for them; writing pen-pal letters to homeless teens at Waikiki Health’s Youth Outreach Center in Waikiki and organizing a clothing drive at McKinley for clothes that would appeal to Youth Outreach’s homeless teens; and teaching leadership skills to students at Queen Kaahumanu and Lanakila elementary schools.
Catholic Charities last year worked with another group from the Center for Tomorrow’s Leaders to sponsor a landlord summit that attracted about 25 landlords, many of whom committed to renting a unit to a chronically homeless person.
“Through the previous landlord summit, we were able to place some folks,” said Rona Fukumoto, Catholic Charities’ division administrator for housing assistance and referral programs.
Fukumoto likes the idea behind the McKinley students’ landlord summit for two reasons:
“We definitely like to see students getting involved and understanding the issue,” she said. “The better they understand, the better advocates they can be.”
And Fukumoto appreciates the idea of appealing to landlords through the stories of actual people who would benefit from a rental apartment.
“Any positive message that can help landlords is something we want to be involved in,” she said.
“There are a lot of of misconceptions about the type of person or the issues that’ll arise in housing a person who might need Housing First services, or just anyone who’s homeless,” Fukumoto said. “These students want to give landlords a different perspective by introducing the clients … on a human level.”