WAHIAWA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The number of homeless people in Wahiawa is growing. They live in the brush and alongside Karsten Thot Bridge and Wilson Bridge.
Joe Acosta knows many of them by name.
"I need you to keep in touch with me," he tells a woman named Nani.
She and her boyfriend have camped below Karsten Thot for years.
Acosta points out makeshift shelters hidden in the brush and the tent communities lining the banks of the waterway. He met many of the homeless while working for the Honolulu Police Department. He arrested some of them and helped others.
"As a police officer there was only so much I could do for these people," he said.
Now he's doing more. The 38-year-old recently resigned from HPD, giving up a 16-year career to work full-time with his homeless outreach organization called ALEA Bridge.
"Our main goal is to get these people back on their feet, give them a sense of purpose in life, and then shoot for success," he said.
Acosta has helped some of the homelesss get state ID cards, Social Security cards and birth certificates.
"From there we can sign them up for medical, take them to the MedQuest office," he said.
He brings them food and blankets and drives them to appointments. He's trying to find some of them jobs. He wants to get many of them into housing.
Acosta first found Beatrice Means in her tent above Karsten Thot when he was on patrol. She said Acosta's compassion is genuine.
"I'm so glad that he's here to help us. He was a good cop," she said.
"I think I receive a little bit more of gratitude and respect from these people with this different hat that I put on," Acosta said.
To ease the transition, he simplified his own life so he can survive off his VA benefits. But he needs funding for ALEA Bridge, volunteers and a vehicle to take the homeless to and from appointments in the city.
He wants to work to get more of Wahiawa's at-risk youths into the Youth Challenge Academy to prevent them from becoming homeless. He also hopes to help homeless adults earn their GED's.
"I believe 16 years in the police department prepared me for what I'm doing now," he said.
Acosta said some friends think he threw away his future. He insists he found his true calling.
To learn more about ALEA Bridge go to www.aleabridge.org.