August 24, 2016 – Hawaii Tribune Herald
Tirza Otani, back left, Trent Palacat, Marilei Mendonca, program coordinator Angelia Anderson, Jeanette Grace, Kevin DeBruhl, front, and his dog, Koa, took part in HOPE Services’ Community Cleanup program Tuesday morning, picking up trash along Pawai Place and Kaiwi Street in the Kona Old Industrial Area. Photo courtesy of Angelia Anderson
Kevin DeBruhl and his dog, Koa, hit the streets in the Kona Old Industrial Area Tuesday morning to pick up trash as part of HOPE Services Community Cleanup program. (Photo courtesy of Angelia Anderson/Special to West Hawaii Today)
KAILUA-KONA — A stigma stalks Kona’s homeless, sticking stubbornly to them like a midafternoon shadow. That stigma manifests conversationally in a slew of derogatory adjectives: disrespectful, lazy, a nuisance.
But a handful of residents living in emergency housing on the HOPE Services campus in the Kona Old Industrial Area are trying to clean up their group’s larger image one area at a time.
Angelia Anderson, program coordinator for HOPE Services in Kona, started a Community Cleanup program in July. Tuesday, a group of six-plus, in addition to Anderson, ventured out in the early morning hours to pull trash from bushes, sweep up broken glass and pick up cigarette butts littering the pavement along Pawai Place and Kaiwi Street.
“The homeless have such a stigma around here, we are just trying to go out and do something positive,” Anderson said. “They really do a good job, and they put their whole heart into it. It’s not like, ‘Oh man, I’ve got to go do this.’ It’s more like (a mentality of) let’s do the best we can for our community.”
The volunteers scooped up enough trash to fill four large garbage bags, helping make the community that has supported them that much more beautiful.
One such volunteer was Kevin DeBruhl, 52, who lost his living quarters in January after detached retinas in both his eyes rendered him unable to work.
The 24-year Big Island resident, who spent the past three months living in emergency housing with his girlfriend and their dog, Koa, said he felt he owed a debt after all the grace he’s received during a difficult time.
He’s participated in both community service endeavors since the initiative began.
“I want to give back because the shelter helped me a lot after I ended up in a place I never thought I would be,” DeBruhl said. “The homeless get a bad rap about leaving rubbish and stuff behind, so we went out and picked up everybody’s rubbish.”
It might have been DeBruhl’s last venture into community service as a homeless individual, as he is waiting to hear today whether he, his girlfriend and Koa will be moving into a one-bedroom dwelling a few miles from the shelter.
His retinas, now treated, are improved enough that he’s capable of seeking gainful employment. And while his days without a home of his own are likely nearing their end, it’s still important to him to improve the way the community views its homeless population.
“It helps to give the homeless a better name,” DeBruhl said. “Some of us are not like that. We can take care of things, and we are respectable people.”
Email Max Dible at firstname.lastname@example.org.