Outreach vans meet hidden needs
Families, “rolling homeless” receive services
by Sue Schumann Warner –
It was Josiah’s fifth birthday, and he started the day much like any other: he woke up in the family’s late model car, parked overnight at Kanaha Beach. His mother and a sibling slept in the car with him, while his father slept outside to give the family more room. Kindergarten would start the next day—and since Josiah has no permanent address, his family will give The Salvation Army Kahului Corp’s street address as his own.
When Case Manager Don Foote stopped by to distribute weekly hygiene and food supplies to the family and learned it was Josiah’s birthday, he made sure the youth received gifts: two fluffy stuffed toys—a brown wolf and a red lion. “We try to keep these in the vans for children,” Foote said, “but we make sure we tell the parents they are pillows, not toys. A pillow is a useful item that can be kept; when a car is their home there isn’t room for toys, and these kinds of things will often be thrown out.”
Josiah didn’t seem to care if they were called pillows or toys; his smile widened and brown eyes sparkled as he gave wolf and lion a big hug. “Thank you,” he said.
Foote is familiar with locations of homeless camps, tent camps, and the “rolling homeless” that live out of their vehicles; at one time he lived in his car in this park as well. After having a profitable business as a tooler in the states, he came to Hawaii and in time became homeless. A move to Maui led him to the Safe Haven, where he soon started working as a cook…and eventually became a case manager. “This job is worth it, but it will break your heart every day,” he said.
Many of the homeless are employed, as he was, he explains. “Seventy-five percent of the day you are consumed by the fact that you are homeless,” he said. “You need to get water, find a shower…and when you get home from work, you have to haul water one mile into the wood and cook dinner over twigs.”
It’s hardest on the children. “Children are raised here with no experience in living in a house,” he explained. “They don’t know how to flush a toilet or turn off a light.”
Some 30-40 people receive Salvation Army services at Kanaha Beach.
Never dreamed of being homeless
Since many of the island’s homeless live in rural areas, parks, or beaches, the Army’s outreach vans go to them, serving over 100 men, women and children each week. In addition to providing hygiene kits and a supply of food, case management resources are available to link people with additional city, state and federal services. The Army delivers mail to those clients who list the corps’ address as their own. They have had success in reuniting the homeless with their families as well.
One key service the Army provides is obtaining identification. Mark Saxon, outreach case manager, a Desert Storm vet who had himself been homeless, explains “Many of our homeless clients have lost their IDs; Patrick Foyle and Marcy Bongolan, Safe Haven case manager, spend hours getting identification for people who have none. Without an ID, you can’t get a job or social security benefits.” It took them a year and a half to get a birth certificate for one client, he noted.
“Many of the people we serve in our programs aren’t chronically homeless,” said Programs Supervisor Patrick Foyle. “They never dreamed they would be in this situation. But the longer they stay homeless, the more they get accustomed to it.”
Army employees are clearly attuned to the needs and challenges their homeless clients face: nearly half of them have been homeless themselves at one point, and many have been helped through Salvation Army programs on Maui.
Friends at Kalama Park
One warm and sunny morning at Kalama Park in Kihei, regular clients who count on receiving the food and hygiene kits meet the white van with the familiar red shield. Often, they seek first aid items, such as band-aids or aspirin. “Their lifestyle dictates that they get hurt a lot,” said Foyle.
Trudy, 50, lives in the park and has been homeless for three years. “I came to Maui [from California] with $200 cash in my pocket,” she explained, thinking it would be enough to get by on until she could find work. The mother of three said, “My mom died, my last child got married…this is my midlife crisis. I’ve never been homeless in my life. The Salvation Army has been the best. It’s been here for me every time.”
Rhonda states, “I’m houseless, not homeless. There is no affordable housing here. Every one is one paycheck away from being homeless.”
While Trudy and Rhonda sit and talk easily with Foyle, a new client completes an intake with Saxon. The man, who was a stonemason by trade, experienced the death of his mother and girlfriend before recently losing his job; now, with no emotional or financial support system, he has become homeless.
With the Army’s assistance, though, could start putting his life back together.
“The Lord’s doing great things in Maui,” Saxon said with a smile. “We’re glad to be a part of it.”