Updated on February 24, 2017
“We are the same. We are the same. We are the same.”
This morning, The Salvation Army Family Services Office (FSO) and Pathway of Hope (POH) conducted a homeless outreach to those living in encampments near the Karsten Thot Bridge in Wahiawa. There are two encampments on each side of the bridge. Guided by the organization Alea Bridge, our staff had encountered between 20 to 30 people. Most of the others had gone out to work or gather food. Here is the outreach visit through the eyes of our Marketing & Communications Manager Brandi Salas, who accompanied The Salvation Army team to capture their work.
“We usually do homeless outreach in Downtown Honolulu, because that’s where we see them the most,” says Director of Pathway of Hope Anna Stone. “We’ve partnered with Alea Bridge to help us extend our reach and help people in areas unfamiliar to us. This is the first time we’re checking out the encampments in Wahiawa.”
Guided by two brothers, Alea Bridge Founder and Director of Operations Joe Acosta, and Executive Director Phil Acosta, The Salvation Army team heads into the first encampment, handing out bottled water, clean clothes, and hygiene kits for men and women. FSO Caseworker, Victor Cordero spent a few minutes sorting out hygiene kits for men and women, explaining, “In our field, most think that we distribute food and water. But we know that in order to secure jobs and stay healthy, every person needs a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, and shampoo.” Each hygiene kit includes items he mentions, including feminine hygiene products and shaving supplies.
The Salvation Army hopes to identify those in Wahiawa who are willing to find stable jobs and housing, which is no easy task. The most common barrier for the homeless is the lack of documents such as having a State ID or birth certificate. “Those barriers really prevent these individuals from getting access to medical care or affordable housing,” says Phil Acosta. “They don’t have the required documents to apply for housing, nor do they have the resources to get them.”
Walking along the first encampment, you’ll find 55-year-old George Fung, who goes by Priest, a leader-type who keeps an eye out for his neighbors and makes sure they are keeping their areas clean. He says, “Many of the homeless here have been born into poverty or faced unforeseen circumstances. But some of them are so resilient. In our encampment, we try to keep our areas tidy, our bodies clean as best we can, and most of us hold down jobs. We have people here who are capable of great work, but lack the necessary documents and a physical address to apply for certain things.”
Priest thanks the team for bringing him and his neighbors clean clothes, water, and hygiene kits. As he walks us out, I ask, “What do you wish people knew about you and your neighbors, who are so capable of working and becoming active in the community?” He responds, “I want them to know that we are the same. We are the same. We are the same. Some people were born with money and opportunity, some of us were born into poverty. We just have to break the cycle to see each other as equals. We have people, like most people you know, that wake-up, wash up, go to work, return home with some food and they do it all over again. The only difference is that the home they go to is in a tent.”
Preparing to cross Kamehameha Highway to the second encampment, we come across 56-year-old Moana Fick-Chung, a woman that lives near Priest. She takes a hygiene kit, a pair of jeans, and two bottles of water. “You notice we don’t have children here,” she says. “We feel this is not an appropriate place for children to grow up. They need to be in a home and feel safe. We’re all adults here and we can take care of ourselves.” She has been homeless for 20 years.
The second encampment is much bigger than the first. Joe and Phil introduce us to Orlando, Wendell, and Ipo. The three give us access to the entire encampment. “Let me tidy up a bit before you step in here,” says 54-year-old Wendell Kawelo. He warns me to watch my step as he is trying to grow ti leaf plants along his tent. “I wanted to make it nicer, but the rain really makes things slippery and wet. No help that we live next to the river,” he says.
We distribute the rest of our kits and water to the few that are reluctant to leave their tents. Most of them go to work, while some stay behind and watch everyone’s belongings. “I want to thank you, Salvation Army. We’ve never seen you folks here before,” says 54-year-old Orlando Apilando. “I’ve heard of you guys and what you do, but I’m glad you made it out here to see what it’s like. We are hidden most times, invisible when you pass by here on your way to visit the North Shore, but we are here and we are in need.”
The Salvation Army is planning on conducting more homeless outreach visits in Wahiawa and along the North Shore. “There are nearly 250 more homeless on the North Shore in need of services,” says Joe. “It is often difficult to get outreach groups out there because they are so spread out. But the need is always there.”
Note: FSO and POH are two Salvation Army programs that work closely together to bridge emergency disaster services, basic needs assistance, rental assistance, and case management. The small staff of both programs works towards one goal: to provide tools for individuals and families to secure stable jobs and safe homes. FSO currently conducts a weekly homeless outreach in Downtown Honolulu and works with POH and a number of other agencies to identify and assist homeless individuals that are in need of drug and alcohol rehabilitation, case management and other Salvation Army services.
Learn more about our programs and how you can help us make a difference by visiting hawaii.salvationarmy.org.