Hope joins homeless candlelight vigil
By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer
By Mary Vorsino
For a second year in a row, hundreds lit candles and held signs at the state Capitol to call attention to homelessness in the Islands.
But last night, there was something new in the crowd.
"There's hope," said Utu Langi, who led a 10-day, 150-mile trek around the island to raise money for the homeless. About 200 participated in the walk, which wrapped up yesterday.
Langi, who helps manage the state's Next Step shelter in Kaka'ako, said homeless advocates in the Islands have never before been so galvanized — and hopeful. And there's good reason.
In the past year, the state has opened two homeless shelters on the island, plans to start up several more, has issued an emergency proclamation to address homelessness on the Wai'anae Coast and allocated some $40 million to resolve the problem. Langi said public support for ending homelessness has never been stronger: Hundreds of residents have donated their time or their money to the cause.
Joseph Harris, who brought his wife and two children to yesterday's sign-waving at the Capitol, is one of those concerned citizens: They don't work with nonprofits that help the homeless, and they're not social workers or psychologists. They're just alarmed about the growing homeless population in the Islands and want to help.
"We came to show our support," Harris said.
Nearby, Charles Ka'anapu and Lana Canincia held up a sign with special gusto, waving at honking cars and giving drivers shakas.
The two were homeless for eight years before getting an apartment in 2005 at Kuhio Park Terrace, a public housing complex in Kalihi. They want to help because they know what it's like to live on the beach.
"Once upon a time, I was homeless," said Ka'anapu, holding up a sign that read: "Everyone needs affordable housing."
Alongside the homeless, hundreds of advocates held signs, too.
Cathy Yanagi, a case manager for Weinberg Village Waimanalo, a transitional shelter, cradled her baby as she rested a sign against her leg and waved to cars. Between long car horn honks, Yanagi said the public and government officials are starting to understand the diversity of the homeless population and their barriers to housing.
"We have a lot of families," she said, adding that people are also beginning to recognize that "homelessness affects us all."
After holding signs along Beretania Street, some 200 attendees lit candles and dedicated a prayer to the homeless. The candlelight vigil marked the end of the annual Homeless Awareness Week, which included a day-long conference on solutions to homelessness.
Sponsored by Partners in Care, a coalition comprising about 60 service providers and government organizations, the week's activities are intended to educate the community about the realities of homelessness and advocate for those who are struggling in the tight housing market.
Though the mood of the crowd was upbeat, there was some concern about just how long public support for the issue can be sustained.
Holly Holowach, program manager at Weinberg Village Waimanalo and coordinator of the awareness week, said she worries Hawai'i residents will suffer from "compassion fatigue" as time goes by.
"I want Hawai'i to be the first state to solve the homeless problem," Holowach said. "If the public can just listen to us and either vote for what we're asking for or come out and volunteer their time, we'll be fine."
Reach Mary Vorsino at firstname.lastname@example.org.