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Column: Homeless Healthcare Hui can change lives for better

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    John D. Aiwohi III stood in a nursing classrooms at Chaminade University.

“Everything is a possibility today,” said recent Chaminade University graduate John Aiwohi III when he finished his fourth year of nursing school. While that statement may seem common for a recent graduate, it has a much deeper meaning for Aiwohi, who struggled with addiction and homelessness for most of his life.

His story as featured in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser (“‘180-degree’ turn for Chaminade graduate in nursing,” May 20) is a successful example of what can happen when a person receives the support needed to turn his or her life around. Aiwohi recognizes that it took a number of people and organizations to help him, and that is why he’s decided to work at the Hawaii Homeless Healthcare Hui (H4), a comprehensive homeless service facility focused on helping Oahu’s chronically homeless population.

Recognizing that there was a need to improve access to urgent care and decrease the over-utilization of emergency room and EMS services for the homeless, a public-private partnership was formed to establish H4. Two temporary locations have been established in Iwilei and Chinatown, and a third location just opened in Kaneohe on Saturday.

According to the Institute for Human Services (IHS), the Windward side of Oahu has the second-highest number of unsheltered individuals that are part of a family, with many struggling with addiction and mental illness. We also know that in most cases, the homeless population will not “go over the mountain” so many remain on the Windward side without access to urgent care or services.

The Kaneohe Joint Outreach Center (JOC), H4’s new three-year pilot program, will now be able to fill those needs, providing walk-in health-care services to the homeless, case management, and access to drug abuse and mental health treatment. Aiwohi, who works at H4 and will be at the Kaneohe JOC location, firmly believes that access to these types of services is a critical piece to helping people get back on their feet, just as he did eight years ago.

Those who formed this public-private partnership also saw the potential it could bring to the homeless on the Windward side. We each recognized that this complex issue is one that cannot be tackled alone and requires the state, city, businesses and nonprofits to work together. We’re grateful to Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole, Rep. Lisa Kitagawa and Rep. Scot Matayoshi for leading the charge, and for the partnership from funders and leaders from the Hawaii Executive Conference who supported this important piece of helping to address homelessness on the Windward side.

The effort to get this clinic up and running has been a success because members of the community adopted a “we approach” and asked local legislators what would be possible if everyone contributed something. Together, Keohokalole, Kitagawa and Matayoshi have inspired private citizens and businesses, philanthropists and nonprofit leaders to take part in improving the area for everyone through the Kaneohe JOC. Each partner has truly become a part of the solution as company executives, and community volunteers, alongside our legislators, canvassed neighborhoods on foot to spread the word about the new clinic.

Hawaii’s struggle with homelessness belongs to all of us, which means that we can change the situation, for better or for worse. Bringing positive change will require all hands on deck, creative partnerships, passionate community members, and a belief that if we work together, “everything becomes a possibility.”

Terry George is CEO of the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation and co-chairs the Hawaii Executive Conference (HEC) Pre-K to 12 Education Committee; Bob Harrison is CEO of First Hawaiian Bank and chairs HEC’s Health and Wellness Committee; Andy Mounthongdy is executive director of the Hawaii Homeless Healthcare Hui (H4).

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