Brandee Menino’s busy schedule — the chief executive officer of a nonprofit dealing with homelessness is always busy — has turned into a whirlwind. The driving force, of course, has been Kilauea’s eruption that has added displaced residents, their homes destroyed by lava, to the population of the homeless.
That’s not even counting Menino’s own family duties. At 42, the married mother of four has a new grandchild, everyone with a claim on her time. Menino was Oahu-born, a Pearl City High School alumna, before graduating from the University of Hawaii at Hilo and making the Big Island her home, ultimately finding her life’s work at HOPE Services Hawaii.
The mammoth response to the disaster has been a team effort, she said. The sudden explosion of demands on HOPE, an affiliate of the Catholic Church, became survivable because of the coalition of private business and nonprofit partners, working with state and county authorities.
Just as one example: A website sponsored by Hawaii Island Realtors and Hawaii Information Services — kokua.alohaliving.com — helps with the task of matching prospective tenants with landlords.
Menino’s most recent project has been the creation of a new shelter adjacent to Sacred Heart Church in Pahoa that can accommodate up to 40 “tiny houses.”
The coalition got grants for building materials and help from HPM Building Supply, and 20 temporary shelters went up in about a day. The nonprofit Project Vision shipped over one of its Hiehie hygiene trailers from Oahu, while volunteer crews finish up on-site bathrooms and showers.
The same model could be applied to construction of permanent units for the homeless, she said, but her immediate focus was on the displaced families who could now have a little private space.
“Today was a beautiful day, the last couple days have been beautiful days,” she said. “We had the blessing on Saturday. We’ve been so privileged to work alongside builders and construction workers, who really did the build. …
“This experience of a private-public-nonprofit partnership, we’re hopeful that this can be replicated in other communities,” Menino added. “It shouldn’t take too long to have something like this up and running.”
Question: Could you describe the mission of Hope Services Hawaii? What is your staffing and funding source?
Answer: HOPE Services Hawaii Inc. (HOPE) delivers on its mission to “Bring to life the gospel values of justice, love, compassion and hope through services, empowerment and advocacy,” through a continuum of services including outreach, case management, resource referral services, advocacy, representative payee services, emergency and transitional shelter, housing placement, emergency financial assistance, community reintegration programs, and permanent supportive housing.
HOPE programs and services are mission-driven and aligned with evidence-informed best practices and approaches. HOPE operations are informed by local and national research, alongside data-driven lessons we have learned through nearly three decades of experience. We have a staff of 53 employees. About 80 percent of our funding comes from state and federal funding opportunities.
Q: Thinking back before the Kilauea eruption began in May, what was the homeless population like in size? Where would you say the count stands now?
A: The Hawaii Point In Time Count in January enumerated 869 individuals experiencing homelessness. In the most recent calendar year we served more than 1,200 people. With families and individuals homeless through displacement, we hear there are as many as 2,000 more people who are living housing-insecure. We also hear there’s about 350 persons living in and immediately outside of the county/Red Cross shelters in Pahoa and Keaau.
We’ve also engaged about 35 individuals throughout the island at county parks through homeless outreach efforts. We also hear about persons staying on private properties throughout the island. I do not have that data and caution in speculating how many as I do not have that data.
Q: What is HOPE Services Hawaii’s role in dealing with the crisis (as contrasted with the Red Cross, or other agencies)?
HOPE’s “lane” is in housing; year-round we work to end homeless episodes through housing-focused programs, and to help those in imminent risk of becoming homeless to remain housed.
Our capacity as an agency has grown in our ability to operationalize best practices, so when this crisis began we were able to provide leadership in systemizing some of the response. Each week we sit at the table with various (Hawaii) County departments, and social service agencies to ensure that each of our respective interventions are working well, and where growth is required we find out how we can help each other. HOPE is aiding in housing assistance and is managing the Sacred Heart Shelter building project in Pahoa. Residents moved in on Tuesday.
Q:How is the “tiny houses” project going for those displaced by the eruption? Will this resource be used for other homeless populations as well?
A: Four residents moved in on Tuesday. Four more are moving in today (Thursday). Resident pets are also welcomed. We have one dog this far, and are expecting two more dogs today and two parrots.
The Hiehie hygiene trailer is also on site while we anticipate one more week till the permanent bathrooms and showers will be done.
(The nonprofit) World Central Kitchen is providing meals three times a day, at 8:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
Q: What was the reaction like, when they first got into the homes?
A: They were super-grateful. They were crying. They couldn’t believe they were selected for the mini-homes. … “I was losing hope,” is what I heard …
Q: How is your agency dealing with this latest crisis?
A: Let’s see … one day at a time now! (Laughs.) That’s what’s in my mind, one day at a time, but I’m actually part of a leadership team. … There’s nonprofit leadership, in partnership with county leadership.
The first weekend the eruption happened, we pulled together to see how as a network of nonprofits we could work and help the county respond to this crisis. …
We started to do registration, (using) the universal intake form, we registered households, and then we’re triage-ing, based on what our organizations do, how to best help.
So for HOPE Services Hawaii, what we do is help individuals impacted by lava with financial assistance, once they secure a rental lease agreement.
For my normal homeless work, we would help them find a rental, but because there’s so many people looking, there’s no way our organization has the capacity to help them look. So we’ve put that on the survivors to search and find a rental unit, but we do have rental assistance that can help them with moving costs. …
Q: What was learned from the Camp Kikaha “safe zone” effort?
A: What we’ve learned is that a tent with no services does not work. Investment in services and a next-step plan for housing would have improved the effectiveness of the program.
Q: Now that the state has provided some funds for an “ohana zone” site, do you think that can work in Hawaii County?
A: According to the bill, there’s an opportunity to define what an ohana zone program is.
For families, we’ve defined that as permanent housing with services on site.
For single individuals, temporary shelter units like the Sacred Heart Shelter units, can be repurposed and used in the future ohana zone site and with services also on site.
Q: Is there anything that would help Hawaii better cope with homelessness?
A: Throughout the state and particular to our islandwide community, we need more affordable housing in all districts. Homelessness is caused largely by a breakdown of systems, so learning more about the conditions that create or sustain homelessness is important, too. We have to stop the bleed.
With an even-increased need for housing due to those displaced by lava, we need to accelerate a concrete plan for affordable housing, with private-public partnerships. It will take the entire community to help address this issue.
No can “cope”… gotta take action every day, all day, to address it.