Homeless on Maui: Outreach is critical to serve those in need

Published: Jun. 17, 2015 at 11:16 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 17, 2015 at 11:26 PM HST
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KAHULUI, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Maui officials say one of the biggest challenges they face in helping the homeless community here is finding and keeping track of those in need - tonight we'll show you how one organization is tackling that obstacle.

State records for the 2014 point-in-time count indicate there are 959 homeless people on Maui, but local service providers believe the number is likely double that. They say it's just hard to get an accurate count with how spread out they are throughout rural Maui.

According to the state's study, more than half of Maui's homeless are unsheltered. Officials say most are on the move to avoid citations. Homeless tell Hawaii News Now they're being pushed farther out of residential and business areas to avoid detection.

"They get flicked. Nobody wants them around. I just keep moving all day it's exhausting," described Patti, who fell into a depression after losing her job and turned to alcohol, which she said caused her to lose everything and wind up on the streets three months ago.

Family Life Center officials say the constant migration makes it challenging for providers to connect them with the services they need.

"I literally have to go hiking into kiawe forests and up into the mountain and down into the bushes and down on the beaches and off the rocks because that's where you'll find the people. I mean, you'll find them in a makeshift cave in some rocks," explained Joey Schumacher, a Family Life Center outreach worker.

While there are a number of reasons why homeless are on the streets, officials say on Maui it's predominantly addiction and a lack of affordable housing -- but even as a choice, it's a difficult life.

"Everywhere we go we get ripped off all our things and then we got to start all over again. It's hard," described Alan Tino, who has been homeless for the last ten years after he was released from prison.

Shelter space at Family Life Center in Kahului is limited, but officials say they try to make it as appealing as possible.

"They get a bed, food, a shower and will be able to sleep without one eye open. That's the main part, the safety I think," said Philip Acang, the men's shelter monitor. Acang was homeless himself once and knows what a struggle it is.

Transportation is definitely an obstacle - and for many, so is willingness to seek help, but Family Life Center officials say there are a few incentives that get even the most reluctant people to come to them -- like their once a week food distribution and meals.

"We try to design opportunities like that to have people come out, but it's never just to feed. It's never just to give people clothes. It's always with the end goal in mind -- we're about housing. We want to move people on," said Maude Cumming, Family Life Center's Executive Director.

Outreach workers at Family Life Center say that can be in contact with up to 40 clients a day. They served nearly 1,200 individuals last year through their field alone -- a number officials say they're especially proud of because so many of Maui's homeless rarely stay in the same place very long.

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