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Hope Services Provides Emergency Shelter to 20 Homeless People Following Sweep at Old Kona Airport Park

May 22, 2022, 9:39 AM HST
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A group of Hope Services partners assists the 20 homeless residents pack up their belongings to move from where they had pitched tents at the Kona Community Aquatic Center. (Photos courtesy of Hope Services)

Hope Services was able to assist 20 homeless Hawaiʻi residents last week with emergency shelter and services after they were displaced following a county sweep earlier this month.

The residents told Hope Services outreach workers that they were previously staying in the bushes at Old Kona Airport Park before having to relocate after the sweep. With no assistance to find shelter, the 20 residents moved and pitched 11 tents outside the Kona Community Aquatic Center.

The camp at the Kona Community Aquatic Center prior to the 20 homeless residents moving into Hope Services shelters,

“We started receiving calls and emails from the county, business owners and concerned citizens asking us to help these folks,” Hope Services outreach team lead Carrie Hoʻopiʻi said in a press release. “The county called a meeting and asked if we could offer them shelter. Our shelters were already pretty full, and I wasn’t sure we’d be able to find space for everyone, but I told them we would try.”

Hope Services operates two emergency shelters in West Hawaiʻi: the West Hawaiʻi Emergency Housing Program on Pawai Place, which hosts individuals, and Ka Lamakū, a village of 18 freestanding micro-shelters located at Old Kona Airport Park.

Ka Lamakū units each have space for two adults, so some of the single residents there volunteered to move to the emergency housing shelter, and employees at the two shelters were able to quickly make arrangements to free up as much space as possible.

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“I knew my team and I would need help moving that many people into shelter at once, so I put out the call for help from our partners,” said Hoʻopiʻi in the press release.

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Her call was answered by six county employees, two outreach workers from CARE Hawaiʻi, three community policing officers and a longtime volunteer. The team spent all day Thursday, May 19, assisting with intakes and moving the 20 people in, returning Friday, May 20, to finish.

“We never know when we are going to encounter something like this, and our team wouldn’t have been able to help all the people this quickly on our own,” Hoʻopiʻi said in the release. “We are so grateful to the community members who were willing to come out and help.”

The team learned during the intake process that all 20 of the recently displaced people were residents of Hawaiʻi. Fourteen identified as Native Hawaiian, four as Caucasian and two as African-American. Most lost their homes because rent became unaffordable or as a result of family issues.

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“County data shows that 96% of people who received homeless services last year were Hawaiʻi locals; we’re talking people born and raised here and long-term residents,” Hope Services CEO Brandee Menino said in the press release. “I’ve run into old friends who are living in their cars.”

“Most of the people we help are our neighbors, born and raised here,” Hoʻopiʻi added in the release. “Instead of pushing them from place to place on the streets, we should work together to get them back into housing. I’m proud of the people who recognized that this week. Together, we brought 20 people closer to home.”

Menino said in the release that the housing speculation from outside the Big Island is pricing island residents out and pushing them to the streets. According to the Hawaiʻi Budget and Policy Center, 42% of all homes sold in Hawaiʻi County from 2017-20 were purchased by out–of-state investors, the highest rate among the state’s counties. The center also reported that 52% of out-of-state owners left their units unoccupied when they or their friends were not using them.

“We do what we can, but as a private organization dependent on government funding and donations, we don’t have the authority to regulate the housing market,” Menino said in the press release. “However, we are grateful for the county’s recent commitment to allocate additional funding to county sponsored homeless programs and affordable housing. We hope we’ll see a commitment to responsibly funding evidence-based programs that successfully get people into permanent housing. We’d love to see our county move away from expecting police to handle houselessness, and instead invest in expanding the number of trained social services staff who can assist people on the streets.”

Anyone who wants to help can donate by clicking here. To keep up to date on what Hope Services is doing, follow the organization on Facebook and Instagram @hopeserviceshawaii.

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