Churches accept more prominent role in curbing state's homeless crisis

Hawaii's homeless crisis has long proved to be a problem government can't solve alone. Now, church leaders from across the state are stepping up to help.

"We are fast becoming a playground for the rich and famous. What strikes me the most is a huge number of local people who cannot afford to live in their own home," said Father David Gierlach.

Father Gierlach is in charge of St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church in Palama. For years, they've provided the homeless with food and a safe place to sleep.

But they also offer something unique, by helping folks obtain their IDs, social security cards, and birth certificates -- all documents you must have to get into housing.

"It is something just about anyone can do, and if you've got a computer to bring up forms and the ability to write, then you can really help someone move forward and start their life again," said Gierlach.

The executive director of that state's largest homeless service provider says having a church in each town take on that kind of work would allow social workers to focus on helping people with issues that aren't as easy to fix.

"We are looking to develop regional hubs of services. One church might be the food pantry, others can connect people to an outreach worker or a case manager," said Connie Mitchell, of the Institute for Human Services.

It's believed this type of organization would make it easier for people in all parts of the state to access services. One church leader who runs a soup kitchen says focusing on a specific mission helps her church better connect with people in the community.

"The relationship is the biggest key to who we are.  And they know that we don't look at them as 'those people,' says Sister Cheryl Wint, of St. Augustine by the Sea. "They are truly our brothers and sisters, and so they're always welcome."

This was just one of several conversations at 2nd Annual Faith Based Summit on Homelessness. The conference will continue tomorrow.

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