Two Windward churches that began hosting monthly fairs this year to attract homeless people in their communities have seen dramatically different results, underscoring the complexities of addressing island homelessness.
Kailua’s Daybreak Church and Kaneohe’s Parker United Methodist Church started feeding the homeless seven months ago — while offering social services that could help them get off the street.
But while Daybreak Church has welcomed as many as 41 homeless people, Parker United Methodist Church saw its largest number of homeless clients on Thursday: 19.
“This is the first, best day we’ve had so far,” said volunteer Alika Sheldon.
There are reasons for the differences in turnout, said Kimo Carvalho, spokesman for the Institute for Human Services, which organizes both efforts.
Kaneohe’s homeless population tends to be single adults — often addicted to crystal methamphetamine — who are “service resistant,” meaning they’re reluctant to accept help, Carvalho said.
At Parker United Methodist Church on Waikalua Road on Thursday, as usual, the number of volunteers outnumbered the 19 homeless people who were drawn to a lunch of Cornish game hen, donated clothes, toiletries and services, such as help in getting their government-issued IDs back.
“We’re not getting many families,” said volunteer Pam Lotko.
While still low, the number of homeless clients coming to Parker United Methodist Church every second Thursday of the month continues to slowly creep up.
In addition to dealing with a more hard-core, chronically homeless population, Carvalho said the Kaneohe outreach has been hampered by earlier efforts that saw the fair bounce among three locations.
Homeless people need consistency — in both location and a specific day — in order to show up, Carvalho said.
After IHS’ one-year agreement with Parker United Methodist Church expires in the summer, Carvalho hopes to find another permanent location, such as a city park in Kaneohe, to serve as the next site for the monthly service fairs.
In the meantime he hopes that homeless people in Kaneohe will continue to come to Parker United Methodist Church and return with their friends, as Will Ajala, 28, did Thursday.
Ajala had been to the Parker United Methodist Church service fair once before and called it a positive experience.
He spent Wednesday night sleeping nearby at Parker Elementary School. When he woke up, Ajala walked across Waikalua Road to wake up his friend Shannon Barros, who slept near the Honolulu Police Department’s substation.
Together the two classmates from Castle High School’s class of 2008 went down Waikalua Road to the Methodist Church service fair and got their first taste of Cornish game hen. They also met Barros’ uncle Eddie Barros, 50.
Eddie Barros, Karen Delacerna, 42, and their son, Raymond Barros, 13, represented one of the few families to visit the monthly service fair and happily picked out donated clothes.
Along with their 13-year-old daughter, Tatiana, the family lives in a van by the U.S. Post Office on Kamehameha Highway and were glad for a hot lunch.
Delacerna showed up at the service fair last month and began the process to get her ID, then returned with her family Thursday.
“We need help,” she said. “It’s tough out there living on the street.”
Pastor Samuel Nam of Parker United Methodist Church said the church’s trustees want to do their part to help reduce the nation’s highest per capita rate of homelessness.
Even though there is an adjacent preschool, Nam said there have been no problems welcoming and feeding homeless people on church property once a month.
“We can either complain and gripe about this homeless problem, or we can be part of the solution,” Nam said. “We’re doing what we can.”
State Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole represents Kailua and Kaneohe and appreciates the difficulties in reaching out to homeless people by IHS, churches, social service outreach workers and volunteers in both communities.
As he canvassed his district for his successful run from the state House to the state Senate this year, Keohokalole said people concerned about homelessness on the Windward side consistently asked, “How can I help?”
“We can’t just lock people up,” Keohokalole said Thursday at Parker United Methodist Church. “That’s proven not to work. When it comes to homelessness, there is no more NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard). It’s in everybody’s backyard.”
Keohokalole grew up down the road from Parker United Methodist Church, and his daughter attends the preschool next to the church.
Keohokalole has no problem with homeless people getting food and help next door to where his daughter attends school.
And he’s happy that the efforts at Parker United Methodist Church seem to be gaining traction, albeit slowly.
“It shows that there is more capacity for our community to get involved and help the homeless,” Keohokalole said.