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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, July 1, 2006

New focus reassures homeless people

By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

The ranks of homeless people on O'ahu appear to be growing. The cost of living is rising. And the creation of affordable housing is slow-going.

But among those on the front lines of the issue homeless people and those who advocate on their behalf there was nothing but optimism yesterday at a 28th anniversary celebration for the Institute for Human Services, O'ahu's largest walk-in crisis shelter.

Much of the reason for hope, they said, is a recent renewed attention to homelessness from lawmakers, Gov. Linda Lingle and even ordinary citizens.

"I believe it's possible everything will work out," said Eteuati Tutuvanu, smiling broadly as he stood under a plumeria tree with his wife and toddler to watch the festivities outside the IHS men's shelter on Sumner Street in Iwilei.

For nearly two months, Tutuvanu's family slept in their car and took showers at parks as they searched for affordable housing. In November, they checked into the IHS shelter for women and families on Ka'a'ahi Street in Kalihi.

Two weeks later, they found an apartment with the help of IHS counselors.

Lingle, winding down a week of addressing the homelessness problem on the Leeward Coast, was the keynote speaker at the celebration.

"These challenges, we face as a community," Lingle told about 300 people crowded under a party tent to escape the afternoon sun. "Don't despair. Don't lose hope. We can solve this problem together."

Among attendees, Lingle was praised for her focus on the issue of homelessness. On Wednesday, Lingle said she wanted to start up emergency shelters on the Wai'anae Coast much like the "Next Step" Kaka'ako shelter opened in early May.

"She has at least brought the issue to the forefront," said Michelle Mahelona, 59, who has been staying at the IHS women's shelter for nearly a year.

Some 23 families, including about 50 children, are staying at the IHS shelter on Ka'a'ahi Street, which also houses 60 women.

The men's shelter serves 240. Also, the garage at the women's shelter has been opened for overflow. Up to 42 women have stayed there in recent months.

IHS started in 1978 as a "peanut butter ministry" when the Rev. Claude DuTeil began giving peanut-butter sandwiches to homeless people in Chinatown on his 58th birthday. The shelter now serves about 900 meals a day.

Also during yesterday's festivities, the new executive director of IHS was formally introduced to the community. Connie Mitchell, the former director of nursing at the Hawai'i State Hospital, has been on the job since June 5.

She succeeds Lynn Maunakea, who was the nonprofit's executive director for nine years. Maunakea moved in December to Kamehameha Schools, where she heads the Ke Ali'i Pauahi Foundation.

Reach Mary Vorsino at mvorsino@honoluluadvertiser.com.