For 11 years, she's been fighting for the homeless. And she's not done yet

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For nearly 11 years, Connie Mitchell has been fighting for a population that needs more strong supporters.

Her work as the executive director at the Institute for Human Services, she said, is trying but incredibly rewarding.

And it's also gotten noticed. The YWCA has named her among the women to honored at the 40th annual Leader Luncheon next week.

Mitchell's background is in nursing. She was director of nursing at the Hawaii State Hospital for establishing a nurse-run clinic in Hawaii County.

Then, she accepted the job at IHS. And, it turns out, it was perfect.

"I don't think anyone truly wants to live on the street," she said. "I think sometimes they're making choices between what they would have to pay in order to be in housing and what they can enjoy if they remain on the streets."

That's why she has been working so hard to run and to improve the state's largest homeless shelter.

Despite her efforts, statistics show that the number of homeless continue to grow and the problem is becoming more complex.

To find solutions, Mitchell took to the streets to meet the homeless face-to-face.

She found unique problems that demanded individualized services -- from veterans to newly-released convicts to those with substance abuse issues.

So she created new programs with partner agencies to help address the layers of problems, peeling away each one to make sure people were getting the help they needed.

And it has worked.

Over the course of her tenure, she's helped more than 13,000 people move into permanent housing and found jobs for 800 people.

Like most great leaders, she credits the team around her for that success.

"the need has been great and the hearts here are so compassionate and they really want to make a difference," she said. "They're always telling me, yeah, we're willing to do that! We're willing to try something different and create something new for people who really need it."

IHS Community Relations Director Kimo Cravalho had this to say about his superior: "I love a boss who can be inspired and funny and silly and at the same time be really serious about the work that she does."

Mitchell was nominated for the honor by Donna Tanoue, who said her leadership is "inspiring, transformative and outstanding."

She credits Mitchell with teaching the homeless that they have the power to change their own lives.

And as for Mitchell, she said she's not done serving the homeless in Hawaii.

"I'm still full of the same passion that I started with and I still have some thoughts about programs that we'd like to launch," she said. "I don't know how long that will take, but I'm definitely in for a little while longer."

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