Tiny homes for those displaced by Kilauea volcano destruction in 2018. (File Photo)
Our goal is a simple one: for homelessness to be rare, brief and non-recurring
By Brandee Menino CEO of HOPE Services Hawaii
Here are excerpts from the prepared text of this year’s Red Mass address delivered by Brandee Menino on Jan. 19 at the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace. Menino is CEO of HOPE Services Hawaii, a Diocese of Honolulu affiliate non-profit organization that battles homelessness, primarily on the Big Island.
Good morning, my name is Brandee Menino and I’ve had the privilege of leading HOPE Services Hawaii as its chief executive since 2010. Our humble roots stem from the Roman Catholic Church, who established us as an affiliate organization 10 years ago. Also, HOPE Services Hawaii is celebrating our 10th anniversary inspiring hope, and changing lives in our community.
Today, I will share stories that lift up our work throughout this past decade serving those most vulnerable in our community and our mission to working towards ending homelessness. Our goal is a simple one: for homelessness to be rare, brief and non-recurring.
Just like the Gospel passage shared today on the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes, that Gospel reflects aspects of the amazing experiences we have been a part of on Hawaii Island. The relationships and partnerships we’ve nurtured over the years have been essential to successes thus far. It is those partnerships that allowed us to respond to disasters like the Tropical Storm Iselle in 2014, Kilauea lava flow threatening Pahoa town in 2015, the devastating Kilauea lava flow in 2018 and the floods and destruction of Hurricane Lane.
Each time, we hui’d up and came together.
Three recent examples of miraculous partnerships come to mind in our COVID-19 response over the past year.
The first example was on April 9, 2020. At the time, we’d all been ordered to shelter in place, but this left high-risk kupuna and immune-compromised persons experiencing homelessness with no options “shelter in place.” In response, we opened Hawaii’s first temporary shelters at two hotels: the Holiday Inn Express in Kailua-Kona, and soon after at Kamuela Inn in Waimea. Between the two, we secured 40 rooms to serve as temporary shelter for those at highest risk.
This was the time where we advocated at all levels and said, “We must shelter these folks!” For anyone to die of this virus, because of a failure to provide housing and healthcare was simply not acceptable on our watch. This is our ‘ohana, and they deserve a fighting chance just like you and I. “Housing is Healthcare … Healthcare is Housing.” This is something doctors have been saying for years and I think for the first time, people got it.
The second miraculous partnership was the reason 30,000 pounds of fresh food was delivered to the doors of hungry Hawaii Island families. A hui of 26 community partners (faith-based communities, non-profits, and the State National Guard) worked together for 17 weeks to distribute produce and protein boxes and milk all over Hawaii Island and delivered to individual homes.
The third miraculous partnership was Hawaii County’s Rent & Mortgage Assistance Program. Another hui of six non-profit organizations came together to distribute nearly $10 million of Hawaii County’s federal CARES Act funding for rent and mortgage payments to households impacted by the coronavirus. This helped more than 5,000 Hawaii Island residents who’d lost income and were in danger of losing their homes, too. The average income of these households was just $37,488. The majority were Native Hawaiian.
I share these three examples of collaborative, multi-sector partnerships because THIS is what HOPE Services Hawaii is all about. This focus of time and resources on serving the most vulnerable in our community is what has kept my team and I driven and committed for the past decade to deliver on our mission of functionally ending homelessness, meaning experiences of homelessness in our community are rare, brief and non-recurring.
Another amazing housing partnership we’ve led was the development ofSacred Heart Shelter, a village of 20 micro-shelters, in response to the Kilauea eruption in 2018. This hui of over 50 local businesses and 200 volunteers, erected all twenty tiny homes in just 30 days. Because of your support, kupuna and people with disabilities who’d been surviving in cars and tents, had a clean, safe, and private space to take shelter.
Over the last 10 years we’ve taken the lessons learned and applied them to improving our homeless serving system. In the past, our approaches took multiple directions, and we were known around Hilo as “all things to all people” of “the fixers of everything.” But because of the opportunities to learn and grow, we’ve transitioned to a housing-focused system that gets results. Case in point? Together with our hui, we’ve reduced family homelessness on Hawaii Island by nearly 40% in the last four years.
This didn’t happen by accident. It happened because we came together, by thinking and acting collectively for the common good. It takes prayer AND action, and we are ready to be your partner in finding ways to multiply our resources during this legislative session.
As leaders, I need your help in showing compassion for the vulnerable, to advocating for abundance to be shared with the less fortunate, and standing up for the voiceless in your respective communities. And I invite you to consider my door open. Please consider this an open invitation to reach out to discuss our work, and to hear about the needs of our ohana experiencing homelessness.
As you undertake this challenge, I offer you a blessing, that you may exhibit political courage, even in the darkest of times, so that you will be a light for our people.
Let me share a reality with you. Last year on Hawaii Island, one-third of the people experiencing homelessness were children. Almost half of those children were under 5. More than half of families are led by single mothers. The vast majority experiencing homelessness on Hawaii Island have lived in Hawaii over 20 years. These ARE local people.
I invite you to reflect on the challenges our most vulnerable have faced over the last year. To reflect on the wisdom you’ve gained from this most difficult year. To consider how, as a servant leader, you can alleviate the suffering of our people, and invest in them again. Starting tomorrow, I ask each of you to champion legislation that will allow Hawaii to do what we do best — to take care of each other as one human ohana sharing a common home.