Sunday, April 08, 2007

Notes from the March 26 Meeting--Utu Lange, Update on the First Step shelter program and the H5 program

Mr. Lange has seen a change toward more community compassion and willingness to help the homeless in the past ten years. The Next Step Shelter in Kakaako has 300 volunteers coming to help. These include churches of all denominations, restaurants, medical students, high school and college students, musical and dance groups. Of the current 300 residents, most are from Micronesia and have no skills. One-third are children of whom 50% are under 3 years of age. Before coming to the shelter, the children suffered from loss of sleep and lack of sufficient food that impacted on their schoolwork.

While the plan originally was to be transitional housing, to help break the cycle of poverty and homelessness, this has proved difficult since there is very little low-cost housing available. Some have been wait-listed for 8 years. Many are working, but by the time they buy food for their families, medicine or some clothing, there is not enough left for housing.

The Shelter’s first priority is to provide a safe place to sleep and enough to eat. Overcoming bureaucratic hurdles has been a part of Lange’s job. For example, the DOH required a licensed kitchen and menus a month in advance. There were no funds for licensing and since the food came primarily from the Food Bank, meals consisted of what happened to be available that day. Many resident’s had no I.D.s because their belongings, including I.D.s, where constantly being stolen while on the beach or parks. No I.D.s - no way to get employment, bus passes, other services.

So an important service is to have resources at the shelter to connect people with what they need to become self-sufficient, skill training, legal aid, health exams and vaccinations.
Those wishing to help in any way may call 522-0397.