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The Specter of Homelessness on Maui

December 5, 2011 - Ray Tsuchiyama

No Maui Nui citizen walks up in the morning and says “I want to be homeless today”.

No Maui Nui father or mother wishes for their child or children to be without a home.

According to recent statistics collected by the 2005-09 American Community Survey and compiled in the 2011 Maui County Data Book (a sometimes surprising list of statistics on Maui’s citizens and economic life), approximately 43 percent of Makawao residents spend more than half of their income on rent. This is less (but still a large percentage number) compared to Kihei, Kahului and Lahaina residents, with 21, 19 and 18 percent spending at least half their income on rent, respectively, yet the figures are unnerving and unsettling, especially if there are families with children.

This means far less money at the end of each month for paying the Visa bill, gas fill-up, utility bill, and children’s clothes, let alone a trip to visit grandparents on Oahu or Big Island.

This means that many families throughout Maui, from the West Side to Central Maui to Up-Country are very close to homelessness -- if the bread-winner loses his or her job.

What can government agencies do to prevent homelessness on Maui?

First, the State can build affordable rentals and purchase vacant apartment unit housing. Another program would be to build and fund a counseling network to assist homeless families and individuals obtain housing (or to deal with the underlying issues of substance abuse, job training, education), and to maintain homeless shelters. The eco-system to help homeless families and individuals includes churches, foundations, non-profits, businesses and volunteers, plus close linkages with county, state and federal governments.

One recent effort has been the Governor’s Hawaii Interagency Council on Homelessness; the group has the mandate to develop a long-range plan for dealing with homelessness throughout the State.

Still, on the ground on Maui, there are many faith-based and non-profit groups working with the homeless (or near-homeless), and they see a problem that is far larger than most Mauians realize, in a challenging economy, close to the end-of-year holiday season full of “good cheer” for all people, on our beautiful island. These are Mauians, citizens of Maui Nui and are no different than anybody else at the beach or mall.


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