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Nonprofits seek funding to keep clients housed

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Buffy, a Shih Tzu-terrier mix, seemed to mirror the countenance of her owner, Gene DeFrancia, during a meeting with Gregory House Programs officials Thursday in Makiki. The Department of Housing and Urban Development cut funding for Gregory House and other transitional housing programs on Oahu.

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Above, Kehaulani Brown describes how Ho‘omau ke Ola changed her life by helping her tap into her dormant Hawaiian roots.

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Pamela Binns, who is HIV-positive and has hepatitis C, is a resident at Gregory House.

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Robert Hetzel, above, was homeless and a meth addict before getting help through Ho‘omau ke Ola. He now serves on the board of directors and is graduating from Leeward Community College. He plans to continue school at UH West Oahu.

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Jonathon Berliner, left, executive director of the Gregory House Programs, talked to some of his clients Thursday at the apartment complex on Young Street. Recent funding crunches have Berliner and his staff scrambling to make sure the program participants will not be back on the street.

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Patti Isaacs, left, is executive director of Ho‘mau ke Ola in Waianae Valley. The program lost $172,000 in funding from HUD but continues to operate. “We’re scrambling right now,” Isaacs said, to figure out how to make up for that shortfall.

Shoulders slumped and faces fell as 10 formerly homeless people with HIV and AIDS were told that the federal government will no longer pay for their housing after Aug. 31.

Deric Anzai, 59, was among the residents of Gregory House Programs on Young Street who struggled to absorb the implications of the cuts on a life that he considered ending before entering Gregory House just a month ago.

“I was contemplating going to sleep and not waking up again,” said Anzai, who is HIV-positive. “This place gave me hope again.”

Gene DeFrancia’s Shih Tzu-terrier mix, Buffy, sat with her head on her owner’s left shoulder as DeFrancia wondered about his own uncertain future once the money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development runs out.

Gregory House, DeFrancia said, “changed my life — literally,” adding, “Before, I was lost. I had nowhere to go.”

In all, 20 people with HIV/AIDS pay 30 percent of their monthly rental costs — typically from their government aid — to live in Gregory House apartments. But the bulk of the program is funded by HUD, which had been contributing $335,489 annually.

This month HUD notified eight Oahu nonprofit groups such as Gregory House that provide transitional homeless housing that their money will dry up this year.

Across the country, HUD is shifting its homeless funding priorities away from transitional programs such as Gregory House and into so-called “permanent supportive housing,” which is often referred to as Housing First. The Housing First model takes homeless people off the street and into fair-market rental units where they receive social service help for issues that can include mental health problems and substance abuse.

Most of the eight Oahu programs were told retroactively through emails that their HUD funding had been cut off days earlier, on April 30. Gregory House Programs still has three months to go on its annual HUD contract, which expires Aug. 31.

However, like most of the other programs on an island struggling with the highest per capita homeless rate in the country, fierce competition has begun to find money to stay solvent.

Jonathon Berliner, executive director of Gregory House Programs, told the residents gathered Thursday at its facility on Young Street that HUD offered no encouragement in its email, just a note “thanking us for our years of service.”

Berliner vowed to find some way to keep the formerly homeless residents in their apartments, where they receive medical services that raised Anzai’s T cell count and improved his diagnosis from full-blown AIDS to HIV-positive in just one month.

“This is a very important program,” Berliner told the subdued residents. “We’re not going to let anybody be homeless or be pushed out. Come hell or high water, you will not be put on the streets.”

Berliner, however, could not say how that could be avoided.

“Beginning Sept. 1,” he told the residents, “we don’t know yet what we’re going to do. I wish I could say what’s going to happen on Sept. 1, but I’d be lying. … It certainly can’t hurt to do some praying.”

Across the island in Waianae, officials with Ho‘omau ke Ola were simultaneously struggling to figure out how to keep operating after HUD cut off its $172,00 in annual funding as of April 30.

“We’re scrambling right now,” said Executive Director Patti Isaacs.

Ho‘omau ke Ola provides several programs for recovering addicts that blend Western treatment with ancient Hawaiian cultural practices.

HUD’s funding paid for the bulk of Ho‘omau ke Ola’s residential program. The money covers salaries for specialized staff who — despite the abrupt loss of funding — continue to help 24 recovering addicts deal with a wide range of problems.

“We have people who are schizophrenic, who were suicidal,” Isaacs said. “I can’t believe what HUD did.”

HUD officials told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser last week that the shift in funding priorities will benefit more homeless people across the country, while acknowledging that programs that lose money will have to find money somewhere else.

Ho‘omau ke Ola treats both non-Hawaiian and Hawaiian clients such as Sheena-Devon “Kehaulani” Brown, 25, of Kauai and Waimanalo, who started the program March 21.

Brown tried religious-oriented substance abuse treatment for her methamphetamine and marijuana use on Hawaii island, but it didn’t work.

Ho‘omau ke Ola tapped Brown’s dormant Hawaiian roots, and now Brown contends the approach will stick.

As she cleaned out invasive weeds from a garden surrounded by 1,000 acres of Waianae Valley land that Ho‘omau ke Ola leases from the state, Brown smiled broadly when asked why she believes Ho‘omau ke Ola’s approach works.

“It’s ohana,” she said. “It was everything I was longing for. It’s important to be connected to the aina, to our kupuna, to everything that surrounds us.”

Other treatment programs also did not work for Adrian Gerhard Kealoha-Kaimi Bihag, 22, of Waikiki, who kept getting into trouble with the law for a hair-trigger temper that emanated from a life focused around gangs, violence, drug use and dealing, including heroin and cocaine.

“Before,” Bihag said, “I was a rowdy-kine person.”

Until he entered Ho‘omau ke Ola, Bihag also had little connection to his Hawaiian heritage.

Now, after working the land side by side with Hawaiian elders and learning ancient chants about respect and humility, along with other cultural practices, Bihag has a fresh, new attitude.

“It’s important for us as Hawaiians — especially us Hawaiians from a drug life, from a gang life,” he said. “We have to learn to do things in a positive way and with humility. It’s given me pride and respect, and it’s building me up in a more spiritual way.”

On Thursday, Bihag celebrated nine months of sobriety — “the longest I ever stay sober” — and he’s committed to turning his life around.

“This time around,” Bihag said, “I’m sure I can maintain my sobriety.”

The emphasis on both Western and Native Hawaiian approaches also helped transplants such as Robert Hetzel of Grand Rapids, Mich., who became a homeless meth addict for 10 years on the Waianae Coast after mustering out of the Navy.

Hetzel, 49, kept going in and out of Oahu Community Correctional Center until he followed up on one of the many Ho‘omau ke Ola fliers that were always packed into the food handouts Hetzel got on the beach from social service outreach workers.

After completing Ho‘omau ke Ola’s residential treatment program in 2010, Hetzel serves on the board of directors, is now graduating from Leeward Community College and plans to go on to the University of Hawaii West Oahu.

Hetzel frequently relies on the messages behind the chants he learned at Ho‘omau ke Ola.

The emphasis on Hawaiian culture, Hetzel said, “is the most important part of the treatment,” adding, “It’s healing. It struck home with me.”

Even though the HUD funds disappeared last month, the staff of Ho‘omau ke Ola refuses to shut down its residential program, which HUD considers “transitional.”

So they’re looking at ways to cut costs while hustling to find new sources of revenue to plug the sudden loss of federal funding.

Their first effort — a car wash May 7 — generated $700.

But that still leaves Ho‘omau ke Ola short by $171,300 to keep operating.

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  • “Their first effort — a car wash May 7 — generated $700.”>>> Their FIRST? So, NOW they feel the need to DO something? Imagine what their reserves would have been should, the very situation that is happening now, had been saved for. Whole different world when you have put your own sweat into it. Oh, and cut back on the dog groomer visits and toss in the gold chain into the kitty. Only a 3 inch picture and I’ve already found 2 sources of income. Imagine what I could do with a walk-around.

    • I’m afraid I CAN imagine what someone like yourself would do on a walk-around. Kick people who are down on their luck, take away the one souvenir they may have of a past life to sell it for cash, take away the only living thing in this lousy world that gives them love. Oh, and tell them that regardless of their health or addiction challenges, they had better get cracking and earn some money right now. How nice for you that the world has provided you with the means to take care of yourself, but not everyone is as lucky as you are. Those who have, should give thanks with humility and offer to help those less fortunate than themselves. If we humans aren’t all in this great canoe-voyage together as a helping team, we are sunk.

      • I know where you are coming from. Keep on giving so while you are work trying to make ends meet I can sit around, smoke my dope and cigarettes, drink my booze, eat three meals a day. I can send my kids to school. They will be fed. No worries, be happy.

      • Depends on what help is. Most of these are dependent on others because they are lazy, uneducated or sick. Lots of money is going their way left and right but what are they contributing to the equation? Work and school programs should be mandatory.

      • Republicans in Congress are committed to hurting the public as much as they possibly can. They are a vicious bunch. That said, it is ironic that these programs are being cut for “Housing First” approaches.

        • Invite some to live with you than. What part of we don”t have the money don’t you bleeding hearts get.

      • Reading their stories, most of these people are drug abusers and not productive members of society. They choose a life of drug and violence, they need to face consequences. Why should everyone else keep having to support them ?

      • Not such a “great canoe-voyage together” when some of these kind of people are not rowing.

        And, it is not “luck” which enables one to take care of themselves. It is smart living and a lot of hard work. Do you think most people were sitting around doing nothing until “luck” fell on their head?

    • The trouble with OHA is that in spite of the hundreds of millions it has from the general taxpayer, they hate Hawaiians and refuse to do much for them. It is a bizarre thing indeed. Ask Hawaiians about OHA and how much OHA is doing for them. It might shock you.

      • Allie, even more problematic is the fact that OHA is the only state agency which is allowed to carry funding over from one fiscal year to the next. The organization has more financial flexibility than any other, and yet its contributions don’t seem to go beyond the political.

  • This looks way too expensive to house those people. The taxpayer pays $16700 per year to house each of these people – plus they are on welfare and pay additional money to the rent. No wonder the governments are going bankrupt and the taxes through the roof. This is all insane. These people I could house in simple rooms for 6000 ea per year.

  • ” . . . HUD spokesman Eduardo Cabrera: “But the good thing is we know how to end homelessness . . . ” ”

    and there you have it. obama has officially ended homelessness. just as he ended al qaeda. just as he contained isis. the nobel peace prize winner does it again.

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