By Brandee Menino

Nov. 17, 2020

The cruel remarks made by local radio personalities during a charity event toward entertainer Paula Fuga, as she shared her struggles of being homeless as a child, were reprehensible.

They also reflect a stigma and community view held by far too many. Many still believe that homelessness is a personal choice and a failure to pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps. The story by Allison Schaefers comes at the commencement of National Homeless Awareness Week, in which solution-seekers across the country unite in solidarity (“Radio hosts mock musician Paula Fuga after she shares story of childhood hunger during fundraiser,” Star-Advertiser, Top News, Nov. 15).

Bridging The Gap (BTG) is a neighbor island coalition of more than 25 nonprofit service providers, government, business, faith and community citizens, who aim to end the plight of those experiencing homelessness in the counties of Maui, Hawaii and Kauai.

We also aim to raise community consciousness, compassion and empathy about the many friends, neighbors and family members who find themselves in these difficult situations and come to us for help.

More than 1,361 are experiencing homelessness on the neighbor islands this holiday season. About 28% are children. Each year, 3.5 million people across our country end up sleeping in parks, under bridges, in shelters or in cars. More than 1 in 5 children live in poverty. More than 49 million Americans are at risk of suffering from hunger.

We believe that these numbers will further deteriorate due to the continuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and Hawaii’s eviction moratorium that expires on Dec. 31. The following Census data points are taken from BTG’s Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) as of Sept. 30:

>> 328 households on Hawaii Island are experiencing homelessness, of which 96 (29%) are unsheltered.

>> 309 households on Maui are experiencing homelessness, of which 126 (41%) are unsheltered.

>> 139 households on Kauai are experiencing homelessness, of which 92 (66%) are unsheltered.

We urge everyone to fight any rhetoric, commentary and jokes that promote insensitivity, cruelty, prejudice and bias against those afflicted with homelessness.

In a Princeton project study in which researchers examined brain activity when subjects were presented with different images, most regarded houseless people in the same manner as objects. It was only when the subjects were asked whether the houseless woman in the photo liked peas or carrots, did the subject’s brain activity change. The dehumanizing of people experiencing homelessness is a war that we can all wage, as none of Hawaii’s communities are without a housing crisis, high unemployment and poverty.

We hope that everyone across the state will join us for our Virtual Vigil set for Nov. 18, hosted by Bridging the Gap. All are invited to light a candle and share photos and videos to their Instagram or Facebook Live, or share stories to raise empathy for those in our community who are suffering.


Brandee Menino is chairwoman of the Bridging the Gap coalition.