Outreach providers helping homeless regardless of pending cleanup
“Carol” grabs a blanket to cover her leg inside her tent at the Old Kona Airport Park on Tuesday. She is among the people “stuck” there because she doesn’t qualify for housing programs and can’t afford a place on her own. Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today
March 22, 2017 By Chelsea Jensen West Hawaii Today firstname.lastname@example.org
KAILUA-KONA — Seated in a yellow wingback chair with her bandaged right leg elevated Tuesday morning, “Carol” was stuck, literally and figuratively, at a homeless campsite at Old Kona Airport Park.
She can’t walk because of her wound and unable to get a roof over her head, something she admitted is partially her fault because of pending charges that disqualify her from many housing programs.
“This is the people that are stuck here,” she said of her surroundings. “This isn’t just homelessness just because — there’s no housing, there’s no affordable housing.”
“We’re stuck in this little pothole,” she added.
Carol, who considers herself an elder in the camp, has occasionally been homeless over the years, but for the past five months she’s taken refuge at the North Kona park, where she has one tent for living that connects to another where she sleeps. It’s clean and welcoming — but it’s not a real home.
“We want to get out of here as much as you want us to — very badly,” she said, adding that each morning she wakes up to blazing sun shining in her eyes, flies and people getting hurt, not to mention crimes in the area or being roused from her tent and cited by police. If she had the $1,500 to secure a place today, she’d be out immediately.
“Help us,” she said of the message she wanted to give Kona. “If they could just find a little space where we can pitch our tents until we can afford housing. We just want some place where we can sleep, be safe and save some money. We’re not asking for beachfront property, just a little empty lot.”
Carol will eventually be cleared out of Old Kona Airport Park, as will her neighbors. Hawaii County, under the direction of Mayor Harry Kim, created a task force that is crafting a plan to clear the park out. Part of the plan calls for closing the park for a couple of days, and offering the homless services and connections to service providers before clearing them out. No date has been established.
But providers have long been offering help.
Carol was one of several dozen people who received services when members of former-Mayor Billy Kenoi’s task force to address homelessness visited three campsites early Tuesday in Kailua-Kona. The group included representatives for the Hawaii Police Department, a Hawaii Fire Department EMT, HOPE Services, Kona Vet Center and the West Hawaii Community Health Center, among others, who come out to help the homeless by providing wound cleanings, toiletries, scheduling follow-up appointments with doctors, and connecting the homeless with services offered in the community
“Homelessness is an issue not only for the homeless themselves but for the community, as well. Typically, when someone comes out to see the homeless it’s to trespass them or cite them,” said Rick Ruchty, outreach coordinator for the Kona Vet Center. “That, of course, puts our homeless population at odds with authorities, so we come out as a group, once a month, a friendly, ‘hey, we’re here;’ it’s just what do you need and how can we help. This is very important because we show them they are a member of our community. That we want to help them get on the right track.”
The outreach occurs every third Tuesday and has been going on for about a year “under the radar,” said West Hawaii Community Health Center Behavioral Health Case Manager Alysa Devoie. Tuesday, they provided outreach to about 40 people between the three camps in the heart of Kailua-Kona.
“It’s just spreading the word — we can help you,” she said.
Though the outreach groups that provided services don’t need help in the field, they can use donated items. Among the most needed are travel-size toiletries, including feminine products, socks, sheets and slippers. HOPE Services is also in need of detergent, and coffee, for the homeless who use facilities at The Friendly Place in the Old Kona Industrial Area. For more information, contact Malu Debus, HOPE Services volunteer and community partnership coordinator, at 217-2830.
Meanwhile, as the outreach occurred Tuesday, residents were signing a petition on change.org created by local musician Bolo Rodrigues to “Save Old Airport, Maka’eo Beach Park before it’s too late” that will be delivered to Kim. It notes the park has been an important part of the community for decades and calls for officials to take action now to rid “criminal vagrant squatters,” which Rodrigues defines as different from “homeless.”
“It’s about bringing the community together. That’s what that the petition is about, bringing a voice for the community so that they know they have one and they can connect with the public officials and the community can become stronger,” Rodrigues said.
As of late Tuesday afternoon, three days since its creation, the petition had garnered 580 of the 1,000 needed signatures.