Hawaii Catholic Herald – Diocese’s service to homeless expands in new directions

Honolulu, October 14, 2010 – The Diocese of Honolulu’s decades-old commitment to the homeless has taken several bold new steps this month. The diocese has established a new non-profit agency exclusively for homeless services, and has hired two men whose jobs will be to motivate and mobilize Catholics to do more to solve this problem.

On Oct. 1, Bishop Larry Silva named Brandee Menino as the executive director of HOPE Services Hawaii, a new corporation that absorbs the dozen or so homeless assistance programs previously created under the Office for Social Ministry. Menino had run those programs under the old setup.

HOPE Services Hawaii currently operates on the Big Island.

The diocese has also hired Blessed Sacrament Father Robert Stark, most recently of Chicago, as a “resource developer/community organizer.” His job will be to recruit, organize and train Hawaii parishioners to support the diocese’s housing and homeless ministries. He started on Oct. 12.

Joining the diocese on Nov. 1 will be Kent Anderson as its “housing development director.” His responsibility is to develop a diocesan plan that will result in creating affordable housing for Hawaii’s low and moderate income residents. Anderson is currently the executive director of Family Promise of Hawaii.

Both positions are new and are Oahu-based.

According to Carol Ignacio, the director for the Office for Social Ministry, the new developments arose as opportunities enabled by the diocese’s two-year-old strategic plan, or “Road Map,” which lists ministry to Hawaii’s homeless as one of its main concerns.

Bishop Ferrario’s vision

But it all started more than 20 years ago with the vision of Bishop Joseph A. Ferrario, Ignacio said in an interview last week with the Hawaii Catholic Herald.

“Way early on,” she said, “he asked us to look at the signs of the times.”

It was a time of the “beach people” — an early wave of homelessness that had families camping out along Oahu’s shorelines.

“Homelessness and hunger,” Ignacio said. “Those two issues came to the forefront.”

Bishop Ferrario set up the Office for Social Ministry to focus a diocesan and parish response to these needs.

Ignacio was put in charge. Living four islands away from the chancery on the east side of the Big Island, where upheaval of the agricultural economy and way of life were causing unprecedented waves of poverty and unemployment, gave the innovatively-inclined Ignacio the opportunity to respond in creative ways.

With the encouragement and support of Bishop Ferrario and later Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo, Ignacio got to work. She set up an income-making cooperative for unemployed women in an abandoned church, opened the island’s first food bank, sent vans with social and health workers into the bushes in search for the hidden homeless, and appropriated unused buildings to offer recovering drug addicts and former inmates new leases in life. And that was for starters.

“We have some standout kinds of approaches to homeless services,” Ignacio said of the programs she helped give birth to. “We were cutting edge.”

The ministry was “never intended to become institutionalized,” she said, “but it did along the way.”

“We looked at the gaps, the church responded,” she said, “and the poor got served.”

“That modus operandi continues today,” she said.

Change brings opportunity

The arrival of a new bishop and a changing staff offered openings for new directions.

“My belief is that change brings a new opportunity,” she said.

The diocese’s latest strategic plan was one such opportunity — a major one.

The Office for Social Ministry had developed over the years a number of programs aimed at getting people off the byways and beaches and under an emergency, transitional or permanent roof. Each program, each with its own focus, sprouted as a need presented itself.

HOPE Services Hawaii puts all the homelessness-related programs under one organization.

As Ignacio is fond of repeating, “It’s focus, focus.”

Why a separate non-profit organization? There are several reasons, according to Lisa Sakamoto, the diocesan finance officer.

The new organization will “elevate its visibility” and show “that the diocese is very committed to homelessness,” Sakamoto said.

The “flexibility and fluidity” of a separate non-profit agency also allows it a “better chance for getting grants and for expansion to the neighbor islands,” she said.

Moving the programs beyond the Big Island is the goal.

“We are starting with experience and success,” said Ignacio, “which enables us to replicate the services when and if needs arise on various islands.”

Ignacio has full confidence in her Big Island protégée Menino.

Originally from Honolulu, Menino, 31, has been with the Office for Social Ministry for 10 years. The mother of four has a master’s degree in family counseling. Her strength in mental health services, said Ignacio.

HOPE Services Hawaii is starting out with 50 employees who are shifting over from the Office for Social Ministry.

The new organization’s $4 million budget, more than 99 percent government-funded, according to Sakamoto, moves over too.

New talent on board

The new positions of resource developer/community organizer and housing development director are being paid for with grants from the diocese’s With Grateful Hearts capital campaign, the Road Map’s corresponding funding project.

Ignacio is she is thrilled with the new talent coming on board.

She said that the committee that interviewed Anderson for the job was impressed by his background and by “his ability to take something non-existent and develop it.”

They liked his experience with finances, planning and community development. “He excels in that,” she said.

She said that Father Stark “comes with a wealth of experience.”

“He will work only with parishes,” she said, bringing a “much needed” set of skills for developing the resources parishes need to combat poverty.

“I am really excited,” Ignacio said of all the changes. “Prayers get answered.”

Resource Developer/Community Organizer – Getting people involved

Father Robert Stark is a Blessed Sacrament priest who has worked in community and social justice causes on the mainland and in Latin America since his seminary days in the early 1970s.

As the diocese’s new resource developer/community organizer, he will use his vast experience to recruit, organize and train Hawaii Catholics to support and sustain the diocese’s housing and homeless ministries.

The following are among his duties:

  • to develop programs that will get people involved in affordable housing and homeless advocacy
  • to develop educational materials to train people on housing and homelessness issues
  • to recruit people who can help the diocese’s homeless ministry through land donations, legal advice, social services or other ways
  • to create a database of volunteers and donations
  • to promote affordable housing opportunities on church properties
  • Father Stark has spent most of the last 15 years in New Mexico with the New Mexico Community Foundation, starting as a consultant and ending as its executive director for nine years. Under his leadership, the foundation’s aid to mostly immigrants and Native Americans grew from $70,000 to $7 million a year.

    The priest has also worked in Central America and the Caribbean in the 1980s and early 1990s. He was the executive director of Policy Alternatives on Central American and the Caribbean, a non-governmental multinational organization which organized wide religious support of recommendations regarding U.S. policy in relation to Central America and the Caribbean.

    Ordained in 1977, with a doctorate in social ethics from the University of Chicago, he has also served as a parish priest.

    Housing Development Director -The man with the plan

    As the diocese’s new housing development director, Kent Anderson will develop a plan that will result in new affordable housing for Hawaii’s low and moderate income residents. He is scheduled to start on Nov. 1.

    One of his major responsibilities will be to bring people together who will create and run these affordable housing projects.

    His duties include the following:

    • to write a master plan addressing the housing needs of Hawaii’s low and moderate income and special needs residents
    • to develop partnerships with leaders in government, land development, banking, law, social services and philanthropy who will execute the plan
    • to identify and secure land owned or obtained by the church for the construction of affordable housing
    • to find government and private funding for housing projects

    Anderson is a local leader among advocates for the homeless. He is currently the executive director of Family Promise of Hawaii, an agency that works with 65 local churches and more than 1,500 volunteers of various faiths to provide shelter, food, case management and emotional support for homeless families.

    As such, he helped develop volunteer programs that rehabilitated more than $15 million of affordable housing.

    In 2007, Anderson was elected chairman of Partners in Care, an Oahu coalition of homeless providers.

    Among the positions held before Family Promise, Anderson was a community executive for Aloha United Way and a business advisor to the Kingdom of Tonga when he was in the Peace Corps.

    He has two bachelor of science degrees from Florida State University in Tallahassee, one in entrepreneurship/business administration, the other in political science.

    HOPE Services Hawaii

    These are the programs HOPE Services Hawaii inherited from the Office for Social Ministry. The new agency will serve an estimated 1,000 persons a year.

    TANF Housing Placement Program
    Places families in homes and provides financial assistance to help cover move-in costs.

    Kukui Program — HUD’s Shelter Plus Care
    Forty-two affordable rental units for homeless families and persons with disabilities. Participants pay 30 percent of their gross income toward rent, and HOPE Services Hawaii pays the balance.

    New Direction — HUD’s Shelter Plus Care
    Nine rental units for chronically homeless persons with severe, persistent mental illness. Participants pay 30 percent of their gross income toward rent, and HOPE Services Hawaii pays the balance.

    Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing program
    Prevents individuals and families with children at imminent risk of losing their homes with temporary rent or utility assistance or help in moving to another rental.

    Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Outreach
    Helps families and individuals with the SNAP application process to stretch their food dollars.

    Representative payee services for the seriously mentally ill

    Helps families with their finances, pay bills, learn financial literacy and manage their budgets. Offered one-on-one or in group sessions.

    Care-A-Van homeless outreach services
    Helps families with children and individuals living on the street meet their basic needs and obtain housing, shelter, employment and medical care. Manages two drop-in centers — “The Friendly Place” in Kailua-Kona, which offers hot showers, lockers, hot meals and links to dental and health care and other community services, and the Drop-In Center in Pahoa, which is a point of access to shelter programs, referrals and community resources.

    Kihei Pua
    The only emergency shelter on the Big Island for families. Provides families and youth with renter’s education classes, tutoring, homework assistance and more.

    Beyond Shelter, Wilder House, Kuleana House
    Three transitional housing facilities for homeless families.

    Ponahawaiola

    Transitional housing for persons returning to the community after incarceration.

    West Hawaii Emergency Housing Facility
    Opening Oct. 18. West Hawaii’s first emergency housing offering a safe refuge for those recuperating and making plans to move into more permanent housing.


    Downs, Pat . “Diocese’s service to homeless expands in new directions” Hawaii Catholic Herald, 14 October. 2010. http://www.hawaiicatholicherald.com/Home/tabid/256/newsid884/3328/Default.aspx