Homeless, vulnerable keiki get ready for new school year on Big Island — with help

Listen to this Article
3 minutes
Loading Audio... Article will play after ad...
Playing in :00

On a vacant lot in Puna, a mother with a debilitating medical condition is living in a tent with her two kids, who on Monday begin the new school year.

An important part of starting a new grade — and fitting in and thriving — is having new school clothes and supplies.

“If they don’t have a new uniform or last year’s shirts, they’ll stand out,” said Courtney Hamakawa, an East Hawaiʻi-based community liaison with the Hawai‘i State Department of Education. “They need basic supplies so they can participate in school.”

The mom is working with the Department of Education to make sure her kids have what they need for attire and supplies, and also the transportation to go to and from school. And she is not alone in needing help.

At the end of the last school year, 433 students attending Big Island public schools in prekindergarten through 12th grade were experiencing unstable housing — with 44 of these categorized as unsheltered.


Hamakawa works with East Hawai‘i keiki who are unsheltered, living with another family or in a shelter. While the numbers of keiki in these situations have not been updated for this coming school year, he said he’s already encountered dozens of families.

Keiki receives new socks and shoes from Project Hawai‘i. (Photo courtesy: Project Hawai‘i)

Nonprofits on the Big Island also help each year by holding back-to-school drives to collect backpacks, school supplies and clothes for keiki in need.

Project Hawai‘i has been providing school supplies for houseless children since 2003. This year, volunteers delivered 254 backpacks, school supplies and water bottles to needy kids on the Big Island.

“Going back to school, or even entering for the first time is definitely a scary feeling for every child,” officials stated in a Project Hawai‘i newsletter released in July. “Even with anticipation of what the new experience will bring, our children are just so grateful they will be going with pride.”


The newsletter told the story of one little boy who came to registration with the nonprofit without shoes. After receiving a new pair along with socks, he said: “It was just like Christmas.”

Magin Patrick, director of operations for the nonprofit, said it’s her kuleana (responsibility) in life to help these children in need: “I was born and put on this earth to help homeless children succeed.”

On Sunday, Hope Services, a local nonprofit with the goal to assist in finding homes for the houseless, also is providing school supplies to keiki during a Back-to-School Bash at the Kīhei Pua family shelter. Volunteers also will provide food and professional haircuts for the kids.

Hamawaka said the nonprofit organizations like Hope Services are able to meet with families where they are, whether it’s at the beach or in an encampment in the brush.


Some of the Department of Education employees, Hamakawa said, will donate directly to Hope Services to get the supplies to those in need faster.

The Hawai‘i Department of Education also provides free meals and transportation if distance criteria are met and if a lack of transportation creates a barrier to regular attendance.

At some schools, there are laundry facilities and food banks. When students in unstable housing require help with basic needs, liaisons leverage funds and/or local donor platforms to assist.

Hamakawa said it’s priceless to see families and children happy after they’ve received the supplies and services they need to be successful in school.

“It almost feels like doing God’s work,” he said.

For more information on how to help keiki on Hawai‘i Island can email Hamakawa at [email protected].

Sponsored Content

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Stay in-the-know with daily or weekly
headlines delivered straight to your inbox.


This comments section is a public community forum for the purpose of free expression. Although Big Island Now encourages respectful communication only, some content may be considered offensive. Please view at your own discretion. View Comments