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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, July 8, 2007

Waianae hoolaulea lets shelter's homeless thank neighbors

Photo galleryPhoto gallery: Pai'olu Kai'aulu emergency shelter

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Wai'anae Coast Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Children of the Pai'olu Kai'aulu emergency shelter in Wai'anae perform hula, with Royal Order of Kamehameha members in the front row.

Photos by JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The Royal Order of Kamehameha attended the celebration in a rare appearance, dressed in full regalia.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Pai'olu Kai'aulu emergency shelter residents and guests gather in prayer before the shelter's ho'olaulea, which featured song, dance, food, tours and other activities as a way of thanking the community.

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WAI'ANAE Among the weekend's festivity lineup, yesterday's First Annual Ho'olaulea at the state's Pai'olu Kai'aulu emergency shelter in Wai'anae was something special.

Some viewed it as a moment of hope and recognition in a place that's had more than it's share of hard times.

The grassroots celebration was arranged, organized and operated by the approximately 200 homeless residents of the facility to say mahalo to their neighbors for offering support and understanding.

"This is a way to say thanks to the community for putting up with us," said Alice Greenwood, the driving force behind the event. "It's a gift back to the community; a way to invite the community into our home and to see what we have done and the progress we have made. It's like a welcome 'ohana a welcoming back to our own families."

Greenwood, a 100 percent Native Hawaiian woman who became homeless for the first time in her life last July 15, has become an advocate for the coast's homeless beach population. She has fought to raise awareness about what she insists is the real reason so many people here have taken to the area's beaches: sky-high rents and a plummeting supply of affordable housing.

She bristles at those who use stereotypes to describe the area's homeless residents as substance abusers or mental cases. Most of the area's unsheltered inhabitants, she says, are like her average folks caught in a economic vise. Yesterday's ho'olaulea, or gathering, was a way of allowing those emergency shelter residents most of them Hawaiian to showcase their talents.

There was entertainment, guided facility tours, food, and arts and craft booths. There was Hawaiian song, dance and chanting among children and adults alike.

There was also an extremely rare visit by a dozen members from the Royal Order of Kamehameha, dressed in full regalia, who led a procession into the facility. Founded in 1865 by King Kamehameha V to defend the sovereignty of the Hawaiian Kingdom, the Royal Order's stated mission today is to guard, maintain and preserve the rituals and memory of the ruling chiefs of Hawai'i.

"We were graciously asked to participate and we gladly accepted," said Andrew Keli'ikoa, who is with the Royal Order. "It's a good thing that's happening over here."

At one point, as the revelry continued at the front of the facility, Keli'ikoa and Greenwood, who are both members of the O'ahu Island Burial Council, participated in a private ceremony in the back of the compound. There, Greenwood and the Royal Order members placed a lei on the resting place of iwi, or bones of the dead, discovered on the grounds before the shelter was built.

William Aila, a Hawaiian activist and familiar figure in the community, called the daylong celebration significant. The ho'olaulea was a giant step in building improved relations between the community at large and the homeless population that lives among it.

The Wai'anae Coast's legendary aloha spirit has been strained in recent years by the miles of homeless residents who have taken up refuge along the beaches between Nanakuli and Ka'ena Point.

"This was organized as a genuine attempt to say mahalo to the community for their support," Aila said. "It was recognition on the part of the residents. What it does is demonstrate that they understand that they have a relationship with the rest of the community.

"There was a nice, steady stream of people coming through all day which is also a recognition by the community of the effort of the residents."

Maralyn Kurshals, a member of the Wai'anae Neighborhood Board, agreed.

"I see Pai'olu Kai'aulu as much more than a 'homeless shelter,' " she said. "It is a safe place where people's lives can begin again in joy and hope. Everyone deserves a chance no matter what happened in their past. The ho'olaulea was great fun and I am grateful to have been here today.

"The ho'olaulea showed us how much aloha and talent they have to share," she said. "They are members of our community who generously opened the doors to their home and hearts."

Reach Will Hoover at whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com.