State agencies work to protect homeless children in Hawaii - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

State agencies work to protect homeless children in Hawaii

A child is found near a homeless encampment in Kakaako A child is found near a homeless encampment in Kakaako
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Public concern continues to rise over child safety and welfare in and around two major homeless encampments along Kapalama Canal and in the Kakaako area of Oahu.

According to the state Department of Human Services, 285 families are homeless living unsheltered on Oahu, or approximately 12 percent of the 2,340 homeless families counted in the January 25, 2015 point-in-time count report survey on Oahu. 

Among resident complaints are seeing children unattended, often playing in traffic areas without adult supervision, and drug activity taking place near tents where children live.

In an email response to questions submitted, DHS spokeswoman Kayla Rosenfeld said that those types of complaints are a "serious concern, especially for the children."

Rosenfeld said that the agency "greatly appreciates (and relies on) community notifications whenever a questionable abuse and/or a neglect situation arises." But she reminds the public that "homelessness, in and of itself, is not child abuse."

Though unable to provide Hawaii News Now with an accurate number of how many cases, if any, have been initiated at various encampments, Rosenfeld stated that “whenever the public reports questionable abuse or neglect situations, DHS takes action "by investigating and, if warranted, implementing a family program aimed to help resolve the issue."

Rosenfeld said the Child Welfare Services Branch uses a standardized assessment tool to gauge the child's risk of harm and safety factors and determines which of its programs may be most suitable for a family: If a situation is determined to be high risk, a social worker will be made available; if the situation is considered moderate risk, the family will be referred to voluntary case management; low risk families will be referred to "family strengthening" services.

DHS urges the public to notify officials of any questionable situations by calling (808) 832-5300.

The state Department of Education is focused on getting and keeping young children in school, but also keeps an eye on child safety and welfare, particularly in the Kapalama Canal and Kakaako areas of Oahu.

Donalyn Dela Cruz, director of communications and community affairs for the DOE, said in an email that the department can only control the education aspects, ensuring kids are going to school and monitoring their wellbeing when they are in school.

"The DOE does keep a record of students identified as homeless and we offer supports such as providing school transportation and free school meals," she said.

DOE staff members dedicated to education for homeless children and youth are also members of the Kakaako Homeless Team initiated by U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono. The DOE also works with partner organizations that assist homeless populations.

In addressing concerns regarding buses stopping to pick up children near tents with alleged drug activity, Dela Cruz said that, "There are safety concerns that have been raised regarding the area in question by our own staff. Not only for the safety of the population there ... but concern for the safety of our staff who outreach."

Dela Cruz said the DOE has also reached out to the City and County of Honolulu to get information on how to recover educational materials such as textbooks and school library books from families that are relocated due to “sweeps” or enforcement efforts of the Stored Property Ordinance.

More than 50 community advocates and others are expected to attend a public session on homelessness in Hawaii on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at the John A. Burns School of Medicine. JABSOM spokeswoman Tina Shelton said the program -- The Issue of Homelessness in Hawaii and Influencing Policy and Legislation -- is sponsored by the Partnership for Social Justice, an MD student community interest group at the medical school.

Look for continuing updates on this and other homeless stories. Hawaii News Now is committed to our ongoing coverage of the homeless situation in Hawaii and we are working to report on what federal, state, city governments and other non-profit groups are doing to find effective solutions to the homeless problem.

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