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Team Provides Outreach to Kona Homeless

December 25, 2019, 8:00 AM HST
* Updated December 24, 11:25 PM
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Physician Assistant Christopher Piel treats a homeless man’s injury during West Hawai’i Community Health Center’s monthly outreach visit. (PC: Alysa Lavoie)

West Hawai’i Community Health Center team walks to sea wall behind Hale Halawai during their monthly homeless outreach visit. (PC: Tiffany DeMasters)

A small team from West Hawai‘i Community Health Center spends one morning a month on the streets and trails of Kailua-Kona reaching out to the homeless.

On Dec. 17, the team along with Hawai‘i County Fire Capt. Michael Lam performed welfare checks, treated injuries, passed out food or hygiene kits and made service referrals.

“They show us love,” one homeless man said after a chat with the team at Old Kona Airport Park.

For the past four years, West Hawai‘i Community Health Center has teamed up with the EMS Bureau and Support Services to perform these monthly checks. The center provides integrated health services to all who who are in need of care, regardless of their ability to pay.

Behavioral Health Case Manager Alysa Lavoie started the homeless outreach program when she realized there was nothing around that facilitated a homeless outreach.

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In the beginning, Lavoie said, it was daunting. There were a lot of people who had injuries that weren’t getting medical treatment and it took time to build trust with those living in the camps.

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“If you show that one person cares about them, they’ll start caring about themselves,” Lavoie said.

While the team continues to make connections and strides to help the homeless, Lavoie added, there are so many who aren’t coming to the clinic.

Lavoie and the team hit several locations this month. Starting at 6 a.m., they touched base with over a dozen people. Their conversation was simple: “How are you? Do you need any medical care? Do you know of anyone else that might need care?”

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Lavoie and other members of the team discussed other needs they might have, between getting an ID to housing.

Cecilia Royale, behavior health case manager, provides assistance for those who require psychosocial needs. She thinks the outreach visits are interesting.

“It really opens your eyes to the real need,” Royale said. “We’ve established relationships of trust.”

Lam is also a member of the EMS Bureau and Support Services. The bureau and the community health center teamed up from the beginning to reach out to Kona’s homeless.

“The fire department presence shows we’re all on the same team,” Lam said. “When dealing with the fragile population, it is a team effort to assist those who want help.”

One of the contacts was with 45-year-old Kimberly Georgopul. Georgopul has lived in Kona for 20 years. For the past 10 years, she’s been homeless.

“There’s no place for homeless people to stay anymore,” she said.

With their December visit days away from Christmas, Lavoie said, their work and efforts don’t change because of the holiday months. What the center does see is an uptick in donations.

Unfortunately, Lavoie added, they also tend to see more mental health crises, depression and people calling the crisis line.

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