It was Christmas in July at Kakaako’s Next Step shelter, where homeless workers Thursday morning unpacked new, heavy-duty air mattresses and $30,000 worth of donated slippers and shoes.
Jenita Ten and Jina Ropert, who woke up on a concrete floor inside their separate sleeping cubicles, were among the shelter’s first homeless clients to get new air mattresses thanks to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I always wake up in the morning sore,” said Ropert, 39. “There’s back pain always. Maybe now I can sleep good and not wake up in the middle of the night, at 3 in the morning.”
The LDS donation of $3,000 bought twin- and queen-size air mattresses for all of Next Step’s 159 single and family sleeping cubicles. With a 10 percent employee discount from the Fort Street Walmart, the LDS funds also will enable Next Step to replace all 159 air mattresses if they become damaged, said Mary Beth Lohman, director of marketing and development for Waikiki Health, which operates Next Step.
The donation was the result of a March visit to Next Step by Lloyd Pendleton, Utah’s former homeless coordinator, who’s considered a national expert on homeless reform, Lohman said.
Before he helped Utah reduce its homeless population by 72 percent in 10 years, Pendleton was in charge of the LDS humanitarian relief for Europe and Africa, and offered to connect Next Step with the church’s efforts so Next Step clients could sleep on something soft instead of a hard floor.
Reached in Utah on Thursday, Pendleton was happy to hear that the mattresses were being inflated and put to use. But Pendleton declined to accept any credit. “I just connected the dots,” he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Pendleton is still considering Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s offer to relocate to Hawaii to work on reducing the highest per-capita homeless rate in the country.
But his decision likely will be postponed until after this year’s mayoral election, Pendleton said.
“I want to be a means to help real changes,” Pendleton said. “It’s still a possibility. … There may be a new mayor, so that will change the dynamics since Mayor Caldwell wants me to come over.”
During his March tour of Next Step, Pendleton was joined by Richard Long, area welfare manager for the LDS Church, who called Thursday’s arrival of the air mattresses “wonderful.”
“That visit definitely opened our eyes to some of the possibilities where we can help,” Long said by phone from LDS headquarters in Salt Lake City. “We’re in the businesses of helping.”
The church plans to be more involved with homeless efforts in the islands, and local LDS officials “definitely want to be sitting at the table talking about how we can be part of the solution,” Long said.
On Thursday some of Next Step’s homeless clients who work in the shelter’s job training program also began unpacking 514 pairs of new, high-end orthopedic footwear comprised of men’s and women’s athletic shoes ($65 each), ballet-style women’s slippers (also $65) and $40 rubber slippers that will be distributed among Next Step, Waikiki Health’s Youth Outreach center in Waikiki and its Care-A-Van outreach program, said Michelle Ip, Care-A-Van’s manager.
The value of the shoe donations “exceeds $30,000,” said Elizabeth Boyd, a sales representative for BackJoy, which made the donations out of last season’s shoe line.
For Boyd, who watched the shoes get unboxed at Next Step, the donations resulted in instant gratification.
“I get to donate,” Boyd said, “and I’m stoked.”