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Homeless teens struggle to perform parental role

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Isaiah Totoa stood outside of the tent where he and his girlfriend live at Kakaako Park on Monday. Totoa, 18, already a father to an 8-month old boy, is now facing the possibility of having another child.

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Baby Kekona Smith lives at the IHS shelter in Iwilei with his 18-year-old mother, Kalena Smith.

  • “They need to know that somebody cares. We’ll never give up on our children because we love them.”

    Clyde Aikau

    DOE homeless concerns liaison

Kekona Smith spent nearly all of his first two weeks of life in the state’s largest homeless shelter — one of the luckier babies growing up homeless in Hawaii.

Kekona last week was at the Institute for Human Services family shelter in Iwilei with his 18-year-old mother, teenage uncles and aunties, and a grandmother who had her first of seven children as a teenager.

At IHS, Kekona and his family have access to on-site medical care and on-site social service case workers.

Just 2 miles down the road at the persistent Kakaako homeless encampment, an 8-month-old boy named Nasaiah Totoa is being raised, like Kekona, by homeless teenage parents.

Nasaiah doesn’t even have a floor to crawl on.

His 17-year-old mother tested positive in one pregnancy test, said Nasaiah’s father, Isiah Totoa, adding that she plans to take another test.

Totoa, 18, faces the prospect of becoming a father for the second time in less than two years as a homeless teenager himself.

“It teaches you a lot about life,” he said.

He said he earns money working as an “under-the-table landscaper.” But he has also earned some notoriety.

Totoa told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser last year that he was involved in the June 29 attack on state Rep. Tom Brower that drew attention to safety and health issues as the growing encampment became entrenched around the University of Hawaii Medical School and Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center.

Brower was attacked as he photographed the encampment. Totoa’s cousin — who was 14 at the time — was arrested.

The case was handled in Family Court and Brower has said that he does not know the outcome, but the boy’s family said he is back in the encampment.

A study released Thursday showed that more homeless people than ever — 14,954 — accessed homeless services such as shelters or social service outreach help in the 2015 fiscal year.

The only bright spot in the study by the Center on the Family at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the Homeless Programs Office of the state Department of Human Services was the fact that 1.8 percent fewer homeless children accessed homeless services.

But the study still found that 3,494 children such as Kekona and Nasaiah were growing up homeless across the islands.

They not only face the challenge of being homeless, but have additional struggles being raised by homeless teenagers who are typically scared and unsure how to get help.

Pregnant teenagers in general tend to neglect proper prenatal care, a pattern that’s only exacerbated by poverty, said Dr. Nadine Tenn-Salle, chief of pediatrics at the Queen’s Medical Center.

“In Hawaii, about 14 percent of pregnant women do not get prenatal care,” Tenn-Salle said. “And for young girls 15 to 17, that number is even higher — at 26 percent. For girls younger than 15 it jumps to 51 percent. For a young teenager with an additional life stressor such as homelessness or poverty, it can be very complicated for women like that to have a healthy baby. To be honest, unless someone goes out there and helps this girl (in Kakaako), it’s most likely that the first time she will connect with the health care system is when she’s in delivery.”

Nasaiah’s mother was sleeping each time the Honolulu Star-Advertiser repeatedly visited her tent last week in the mornings and afternoons.

Neither Totoa, nor his mother and father (who all live in the encampment) were clear about what kind of prenatal or birth control advice Nasaiah’s mother was receiving or what kind of medical checkups the 8-month-old baby was getting.

In general, babies born to mothers who do not receive proper prenatal care are more likely to have low birth weight, respiratory problems, learning disabilities and other potential complications, Tenn-Salle said.

Their prenatal problems can be made worse if their mothers are children themselves.

“There is a psychological barrier because a young teen is not quite sure how they feel about pregnancy,” Tenn-Salle said. “They’re so frightened, often in denial that they are pregnant and trying to hide it. But that window of time early in the pregnancy is the most critical for the baby’s health. They have to process all this and all the while the baby is growing inside them.”

Expectant women do not typically begin to show until four or five months into their pregnancy, which is well outside the first trimester when proper prenatal care is critical.

To a teenage girl, Tenn-Salle said, her pregnancy is “all theoretical until you see your belly growing.”

Kekona was born two weeks premature at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women &Children and entered the world at 5 pounds and 15.9 inches.

His 18-year-old mother, Kalena Smith, also has a 2-year-old boy from a different father. The 2-year-old is under the legal guardianship of a relative because he was born while Smith was underage, said David Lunceford, IHS family programs manager.

Smith is the second-oldest of seven children — six of whom are living at IHS’ family shelter with their mother. Their father is in prison for domestic violence, Smith said.

They had been living in a two-bedroom apartment in Makiki but could not afford the apartment and moved into IHS three months ago.

“We didn’t have food in the house,” Smith said. “We never had money left for anything.”

Sarah Yuan, an associate specialist with the UH Center on the Family who helped prepare the study released Thursday, said it’s unusual for homeless, pregnant teenage girls in Hawaii to seek help on their own, which could lead to problems for their babies.

“They don’t know if they’re going to be reported because they’re underage,” Yuan said. “We almost never see any unaccompanied underage youth through the system. They always have an adult in the family.”

Hawaii’s Child Welfare Services has said repeatedly that being homeless is not a reason by itself to take a child from a homeless family.

But their teenage parents living in homeless encampments are more likely to engage in risky, illegal behavior such as drug use or prostitution that could place their children at risk of being taken away, Yuan said.

“Sometimes they abuse drugs or they are in an abusive situation or they do other things,” she said. “They are at risk to themselves and at-risk that the child will be taken away from them. … A lot of time they don’t see too far into the future because they’re on survival mode. They’re living day by day.”

Once homeless children get old enough to attend school, Yuan said, “this group of kids faces a huge disadvantage in terms of school achievement.”

They tend to lack focus and discipline and are less likely to follow classroom instructions.

“It’s very challenging to raise kids outdoors with less-structured days to prepare them for school,” Yuan said.

The state Department of Education is teaching 3,576 homeless students this school year — up from 3,526 the year before, according to DOE data.

The biggest number of homeless students — 754 — attend school in the Nanakuli-Waianae complex, an increase from 725 students in the preceding year.

Clyde Aikau, the younger brother of legendary North Shore lifeguard Eddie Aikau, said he sees the struggles of homeless schoolchildren through his job as a DOE homeless concerns liaison.

“It’s endless,” Aikau said. “It’s just a real difficult situation.”

The children are fed breakfast and lunch at school, which are typically the only meals they’ll get all day, Aikau said.

Aikau sympathizes with their homeless parents, who could be children themselves.

“When you’re talking about young parents, they really have no skills and are overwhelmed trying to take care of their young child,” Aikau said. “They can hardly find a job and take care of themselves.”

But while he understands the challenges that homeless teenage parents face, Aikau’s priorities are clear:

“Kids first and parents second,” he said.

Aikau tells homeless students to never give up and “just put one foot in front of you.”

But he does not leave them to figure it out themselves.

Instead, Aikau tells homeless children, “‘Here’s Uncle Clyde’s number. If you get in trouble and you don’t have somebody to talk to, call Uncle Clyde.’”

“They need to know that somebody cares,” Aikau said. “We’ll never give up on our children because we love them.”

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  • It’s good to hear that there are some people who are smart enough to go to the shelter – they can get food, shelter, security, and assistance in setting up their lives.

    Others like that Totoa character won’t go to the shelter because of “too many rules” and recklessly jeopardizes his girlfriend and his children’s lives – they will just end up in the endless circle of homelessness, drugs, crime, poverty, and ruin the lives of their innocent children. Sad, but nobody can help that kind of people

    • Is he from Hawaii? Probably would rather stay here and collect welfare than go back to where he came from. Because here, the more you breed, the more money you get.

      • I suspect he is yet another transplant who does not belong here. Most people from Hawaii have shame and would hide the fact that they were homeless.

  • I see the Totoas have made a cottage industry out of being homeless for themselves (heh). They’ve been given many chances. It’s time to throw them in jail if they continue to refuse to go into a shelter.

  • ““We didn’t have food in the house,” Smith said. “We never had money left for anything.”>>>So, making babies was a solution to this?

    “Totoa, 18, faces the prospect of becoming a father for the second time in less than two years as a homeless teenager himself.

    “It teaches you a lot about life,” he said.”>>> ??? Still waiting for what lessons he’s been taught.

    “Totoa, 18, faces the prospect of becoming a father for the second time in less than two years as a homeless teenager” …..Plus…

    “His 18-year-old mother, Kalena Smith, also has a 2-year-old boy from a different father.”

    See why you can’t help most of these people? They won’t even get out of their OWN way for betterment. Won’t do what they CAN do for THEMSELVES.

    “Their father is in prison for domestic violence, Smith said.”>>> ALL of this stems from simple BAD…VOLUNTARY…CHOICES made. Again, CHOICES…which have consequences like all choices do.

    “The biggest number of homeless students — 754 — attend school in the Nanakuli-Waianae complex”>>> So, they are from that area then. What conclusions can be drawn about the parents from that area?

    I’m sorry to be SO critical about all this but this is like reading a story about someone who willingly slams their arm in a door and then whines about the pain.

    • Unfortunately, Soundofreason, poor choices that we, the taxpayers, have to pay for it seems. These 18 year old baby-men and women don’t have a clue what they’re getting themselves into.

    • IRT SOR, the Waianae Nanakuli area is tolerant to the homeless blight. Therefore many seek refuge on the beach here. Harassment by snots, rich folks, politicians and reporters will not happen. Jesus would be proud. You can have your gated communities, manicured landscaping, cute latte corner shops. We out here live on edge and are happy snobs do not venture here.

      • You sound self-righteous but in fact Hawaiians and Micronesians have been violent toward one another for years. I am a volunteer with a Hawaiian-serving organization that is trying to bring the two ethnic groups together and to find common ground. This is happening in town. Not at the somewhat mythical aloha of Waianae and Nanakuli.

      • Your kind is multiplying until the country looks like living hell India, Pakistan and those hopelessly de-humanized countries. You can be their Boss!

  • This is a living shame that in our culture such people are allowed to sponsor offspring, depending on taxpayers for their livelihood and being immature and unfit parents! By allowing them to multiply we are guilty of letting the country slide into the abyss.

    • These kids need some education in using birth control instead. Once they become teen parents, then their future is pretty much bleak not only for them, but for the kids they bring into this world.

      • You sound self-righteous but in fact Hawaiians and Micronesians have been violent toward one another for years. I am a volunteer with a Hawaiian-serving organization that is trying to bring the two ethnic groups together and to find common ground. This is happening in town. Not at the somewhat mythical land of aloha of Waianae and Nanakuli.

        • The Aloha spirit has been killed by overpopulation which turned Hawaii into a rat race.

  • Obviously Totoa hasn’t learned a thing. 2 kids being born into homelessness. Maybe those who refuse to head into a shelter should have their kids taken away.

    • Where are the planned parenthood advocates intervening to help keep the population from escalating out of control. This guy is a one-man baby creating machine. Fix this robot so that he can enjoy sex but not make babies?

  • That Totoa boy needs to get a job producing donations at the UH sperm bank. He seems quite skillful in reproduction, however his genetic makeup does not seem to include the gene for responsibility, so maybe not.

  • There are very few children that I can think of that are in more need of PROTECTION than a child living on the streets and the Child PROTECTION Services refuse to help in these situations.

    If you are homeless and have a child, that child should be taken from you and you should be thrown in jail for Endangering the Welfare of that child. You knew you were on the street and yet you still decided to conceive. There are organizations that give free birth control, but even that would be “too many rules” for you evidently. Enough coddling.

    If smokers are adding to health care costs, even more so are the homeless who are having children that they EXPECT the government to take care of.

    • I agree with Kekela about CPS not getting involved enough in what is obviously child abuse. This story merely attempts to draw sympathy to the plight of the homeless teens who lack the basic social, mental, and educational skills to properly parent their offspring. Alarmingly, our homeless population is over represented by the Polynesian community ie, Hawaiian, Samoan, Micronesian, etc, This statistic reveals the breakdown of the family unit and the absence of stable role modeling. Look at the Polynesian population in our subsidized state housing program who are one eviction away from being homeless themselves. These groups must come to grips with their generational failures but I sense they are sticking their heads in the sand and denying there is a problem. Our taxpayers are undeservedly footing the bill and suffering the consequences.

      • kekelaward, Too_Much and Heinbear, don’t worry. As soon as CPS is alerted by mandated reporters or concerned neighbors/citizens of neglect, CPS will swoop in, investigate, assess and place the kids in emergency resource homes. That’s what you want, right? And will someone please give these kids condoms?!

  • The scenario is similar to but different in many ways as have been happening on the mainland for generations in the ghettos of many American cities. Babies absent their fathers qualify for entitlements. It is not unusual for young unmarried females having 3 succession of children for entitlement reasons. Beats going to work for living and receive all the perks enjoyed by a working taxpayer. The 18 year male is learning fast as his 2nd baby is on the way$$$$.

    • We need a Trump revolution. Otherwise everything will slide down even more. Hillary is encouraging more Millions of Southamericans to invade the country.

    • cojef, really? ALL the perks of a working taxpayer? Homelessness and collecting welfare does NOT equate to the lifestyle of a middle-class worker. Please think before exaggerating.

  • They must have made a tent extension since the Totoa family is expanding. The more kids they make, the better the take from taxpayers. That’s what Totoa is learning about life in Honolulu.

  • Until the democratic controlled state and county can grow a pair and treat homelessness as an illegal activity there will be no solution. I can’t wrap my head around how the act of defecating and urination in public, wholesale take over our tax payer supported public lands, and trashing our aina is NOT a crime. Homelessness is a product of years of liberal policies of social re-engineering and a lack of respect for the poor taxpayer who must pay the price. The libs are so caught up in politically correctness in combating homelessness that they have lost sight of common sense solutions and public sentiment. HPD is also caught up in the middle of this political quagmire that they have become clueless on how to respond to our homelessness complaints.

    • I thnk you paint with too broad a brush. This “lib” is tired of the issue too. While I am not unsympathetic to those that struggle to afford shelter on low paying jobs, I don’t believe we should tolerate lazy a- living, not even making an effort at a dignified living. Substance abuse and mental health services are critical. Providing shelter in return for some labor should also be made available. But sprawling over public parks, sidewalks and business doorways should be grounds for the chain gang!

      • sailfish, you can still file for tax credits without taxable income. The operative words are “tax credits” and “tax deductions”. Google is informative.

        • Most homeless people don’t file tax returns. They don’t realize they could receive tax refunds due to entitled tax credits. It’s a lot of effort involved for them to file. You also need a forwarding address, a certain amount of resourcefulness or someone smart enough who is willing to assist you to receive refunds, welfare benefits, SSI, Med-Quest, birth certificates, Social Security cards, etc. So rest easy, worried citizens. Most homeless are NOT receiving the financial assistance they desperately need.

  • Look at the picture of the baby of this young homeless couple. Something does not quite look right with this baby. They say the eyes are the window to the soul and this baby has the eyes of a tired, worn out old man with a blank expressionless stare with nothing much going on upstairs. Hope I am wrong but I think between the iQ level of the parents, coupled with less than healthful lifestyle behaviors like smoking, drinking and other substances used by both the mother and father with little to no prenatal care and no stable home with nurturing environment to live in, this kid will forever struggle and be a burden to society. All the welfare assistance in the world is not going to help this kid.

  • Free sterilization for men & women, those who refuse, are also refusing future state assistance. As a society; not just Hawaii, we cannot afford to support those who refuse to support themselves. I believe other people share my belief that we have coddled and enabled people for far too long. There are folks that really need help, & we should provide it; however, people that continue to have children that they know they can’t support need to do the right thing, & so do we.

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