Where I Live: Kaka‘ako Update And Peers Helping Youth On The Street

Nov 7, 2019

(l-r) Pualani and Nati are both members of the O'ahu Youth Advisory Council helping to develop programs for youth on the street.
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

Kaka‘ako Makai’s sidewalks are cleared of campers now, but where have they all gone? And, O‘ahu’s homeless youth just got $3.8 million from HUD for programs homeless youth will help develop. 

City crews arrived early Tuesday to clear Ilalo Street. They worked through the day as Ka Po'e o Kaka'ako members helped break down and sweep up.
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

At one time there were a hundred or more people living in and around Kaka'ako Makai park, but through the summer and fall there have been sweeps/enforcements, as HPD Sgt. Cadoy called them, while city crews cleared the sidewalks Tuesday.

We’ve been following the lives of Ka Po‘e o Kaka‘ako members. They're a hui of people living most recently on Ilalo Street, though some have lived on the Kaka‘ako waterfront for years. Eight core members of Ka Po‘e moved into shelter at Hale Mauliola on Nimitz Highway; they do not know the whereabouts of approximately 30 others in the group.

Ka Po‘e leaders worry about keeping their community in touch now. They’re still working with Lt. Gov. Josh Green on acquiring a parcel in Mapunapuna where Ka Po‘e o Kaka‘ako can move as a community.

The 41-acre makai section of Kaka‘ako is now officially the responsibility of the city of Honolulu. Restrooms and areas of the park are closed for renovations, possibly until February 2020. Point Panic is not affected. 

There is some good news on the homeless front. Partners in Care (PIC), O‘ahu’s Continuum of Care, is a homeless services coordinator. They have just gotten a $3.8 million dollar grant for youth homeless services.

A 2018 study found about 300 homeless youth statewide, about half living on their own. A PIC Street Youth Study in 2018 showed over 80% of those aged 12-17 were Hawaiian or part-Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. Twenty-one percent identified as differently gendered, and over 58% had attempted suicide.

Carla Houser, director of Residential Youth Services and Empowerment (RYSE), got the O‘ahu Youth Advisory Board (OYAB) together a few years ago. She assembled some unsheltered kids, and just asked them, "What would make your lives better?"

OYAB members have been strategizing on what would help their own constituencies. They made a pitch for funds through federal Housing and Urban Development, and made the cut. That has led to the Oahu Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP), which now has $3.8 million dollars to develop and implement programs.

Nati is an O‘ahu Youth Advisory Board member and has been on the street since she was 12. She’s 19 now, still homeless, and has a one-year-old son. Pualani is 18, also in OYAB, she was homeless from elementary school, started couch surfing in high school, ended up at a family shelter in Kaka‘ako until this past January, and now rotates among family and friends. She has a nine-month-old son and is working at Jamba Juice Ward. 

Nati and Pua say kids have trouble getting transportation to school. They have to search for supplies, space, electricity and light, to do their homework. And then the rain comes.

Asked what kinds of things might help, they said, "How about washing machines at school so kids can wash their clothes? Maybe locker room showers could be open for a while each day for kids?"

Simple, targeted ideas from people who’ve been there -- that’s what the OYAB will be contributing to the process of developing programs under the HUD grant.

PIC assembled a wide group of individuals and agencies who have kuleana with this issue for the announcement of this grant. Kaimukī High School’s principal was there, along with someone from corrections, others from the DOE, and elsewhere.

This is not a one shot deal. Successful programs are promised continued HUD funding.