COUNCIL’S 3 MINUTES
By: Tasha Kama
Published in The Maui News November 6, 2021
Honoring Those Who Work to Overcome Homelessness
The issue of homelessness is a painfully visible problem in our community, one that reminds us of the many people who are chronically homeless due to mental illness or substance abuse and addiction. However, many families and individuals are homeless due to extenuating circumstances, such as a lack of housing they can afford, job loss or being forced out of their rental housing when the home is sold.
One formerly homeless resident shared some of her experiences as one of the first tenants at Huliau Apartments, the affordable rental project developed through a state-county partnership at the newly renovated UH Maui College dormitory complex. While the county hopes to create many more affordable units, Huliau’s opening was a timely opportunity for 32-year-old “Malia” and her family (real name withheld at the resident’s request). After a series of unfortunate life events, including the passing of three family members and a home foreclosure, Malia’s prospects were dire, despite having graduated from a local high school with a 4.0 GPA.
“It was our second time at the (Ka Hale A Ke Ola) shelter, and this time because of the pandemic, my boyfriend, my two young children and I could only stay 90 days, and then there would be a 90-day waiting period before we could get back in,” she recalled.
“I was pregnant at the time, and I was so scared that my kids would get taken away because I might be living in a car. My boyfriend had called and applied everywhere, but we only got put on long waitlists for affordable rentals, and were 2,000th in line for HUD (Section 8 housing). Our hands were tied; we really had no options.”
A week later, the Huliau Apartments were completed and ready for new tenants. For Malia and her family, it was a dream come true. Grateful for the opportunity to have a place to call home, Malia noted the staff and programs at Ka Hale A Ke Ola were instrumental in helping her family transition back into stable housing.
“Many people don’t want to go to the shelter because of the rules and the one short volunteer shift per week, but they don’t realize how many resources are available at the shelter,” she said. “Even though it takes a while to get in, once you get in you really do benefit so much. The staff are there to help you 110 percent.”
Malia was able to take full advantage of the resources at the shelter, including first month’s rent and security deposit upon completion of the shelter’s educational programs. Huliau residents also receive support from Family Life Center, which manages the Huliau project; the Maui Food Bank, which brings food to Huliau once a month; and Keiki O Ka Aina’s diaper bank and home preschool program. Having taken classes on managing finances and other important life skills, Malia is now envisioning saving for a down payment on a home and completing her last year of nursing school.
“That’s why I’m so glad that Huliau gave us this opportunity,” Malia said earnestly. “It helps families move forward, and it’s given us hope.”
Malia also has words of encouragement for those who are still struggling with housing, including the 357 individuals currently enrolled in the coordinated entry system.
“People think they can’t get out of homelessness, but they can! There are people to help you every step of the way,” she said.
Nov. 13-21 will be recognized nationally and in Maui County as Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, with a focus on those who are facing housing and food insecurity, as well as honoring community organizations like the Maui Homeless Alliance (MHA) that provide case management and other social services. As the county and the council continue to seek funding to develop more affordable housing, many MHA members and others in our community are working hard to extend services, assistance and aloha to all of our residents, especially those who need it the most. To them, we echo Malia and her family by saying, “Mahalo.”
For some helpful links, see below:
* Tasha Kama is the Presiding Officer Pro Tempore of the Maui County Council. She holds the County Council seat for the Kahului residency area. She chairs the Human Concerns and Parks Committee. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information. *