Published in The Maui News, September 27, 2015
By STACY CRIVELLO, for The Maui News
It’s safe to say at this time Maui County’s social landscape doesn’t mirror Oahu’s.
Here, for example, we don’t see major homeless encampments encroaching resort destinations or residential neighborhoods – yet. But Maui is not isolated from the struggles and challenges of homelessness and the lack of affordable rental housing. At a conference last month, all four counties acknowledged the seriousness of the housing crisis on all islands in the state.
According to a report compiled by the state Department of Human Services earlier this year, the homeless count on Maui totals 1,137. Of that total, 505 are sheltered and 632 unsheltered.
Although substance abuse, mental health, domestic violence and other social problems are contributing factors, research shows people are often homeless simply because they can’t find housing they can afford. Even many housing units that are officially labeled “affordable” are well beyond the reach of our working families.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, an estimated 12 million households pay more than 50 percent of their income for housing. A family with one full-time worker earning the minimum wage cannot afford fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the United States.
One organization working closely with the county to address these issues is Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Centers. KHAKO is the county’s largest homeless services provider, with services in both Central Maui and West Maui.
KHAKO operates homeless resource centers in Wailuku and Lahaina that provide transitional housing for 254 and 181 residents, respectively. The homeless resource centers also provide substance abuse treatment, rental assistance, child care and other social services.
KHAKO also operates Hale Makana O Waiale affordable housing in Wailuku, with 751 residents, including 356 children, in 200 units, and affordable housing in Lahaina, with 30 units. These units provide homes to individuals and families earning 50 percent or below the area median income.
Last year, a project assessment report concluded management changes at Hale Makana O Waiale could significantly improve the performance and fiscal viability of the facility. The report included 40 specific recommendations relating to financial and physical aspects and staffing, which KHAKO’s new management appears to be diligently striving to address.
With the guidance of the Department of Housing and Human Concerns and county attorneys, the Maui County Council Housing, Human Services and Transportation Committee, which I chair, has scrutinized the work of KHAKO’s new management.
Recent operational improvements and initiatives at Hale Makana O Waiale include:
- Change in leadership.
- Reduction of maintenance and operations staff, with accompanying payroll savings.
- Participation in a neighborhood watch group.
- Retrofitting of outdoor lighting fixtures for safety.
- Providing housing to nine formerly homeless veterans and about four dozen HUD voucher recipients.
- Working with the county to improve educational opportunities for immigrant residents.
It’s this type of ambitious work by the management team that led the council to conclude the county should continue to partner with KHAKO to improve the financial viability and maintenance of the facility.
The council was faced with a decision. Do we want to support KHAKO’s efforts to continue to provide housing for those in need? Or do we risk adding another 751 to the homeless count?
Ultimately, the council, by a 7-1 vote, determined the balance of the construction loan should be discharged to allow KHAKO to continue to care for our community. This was not just a “feel-good moment” or mere generosity. By providing a means to keep the roof of Hale Makana O Waiale intact and our streets clear of tents, the council made a well-considered decision that supports not only our working families, but Maui’s visitor industry, upon which the county is so reliant.
It makes economic sense for Maui County to be a caring community. My committee will continue to work on the issue of homelessness and welcomes suggestions.
* Stacy Crivello is chair of the County Council’s Housing, Human Services and Transportation Committee. She holds the council seat for the Molokai residency area. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.