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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Hawaii's Micronesians assail housing report

Video: Micronesians criticize study, newspaper

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Members of the Micronesian community listen to Michael Ullman explain his report on increased use of homeless shelters by Micronesians.

JEFF WIDENER | Associated Press

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People from Hawai'i's Micronesian community last night criticized a homeless services consultant/advocate and executives from The Honolulu Advertiser for a study and ensuing front-page story that they said cast an unfair and negative light on those who have come to live and receive services here.

Michael Ullman's paper, "Not-So-Silent Epidemic: The Rise in Shelter Utilization by Micronesians in Hawaii, 2001 to 2006," detailed an increase in the number of Micronesians using the state's homeless shelter system. The Advertiser ran a story on Sunday, July 8, under the headline "Micronesians fill shelters."

Many of the approximately 50 people who attended last night's meeting at Kuhio Park Terrace said they want a written apology from Ullman published in The Advertiser.

Annie Fiti, who is from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, said she was offended by Ullman's report and The Advertiser's coverage. "You ask us not to judge you, but you already passed judgment on all of us," Fiti said. "Not all of us are in shelters, not all of us are on welfare. There are a bunch of Micronesians who are working and contributing to the government of the United States ... just like you."

Ullman said that in retrospect, he could have chosen his words more carefully but added that he is "pro-Micronesian."

Meanwhile, Advertiser executives said they understood where the audience was coming from and promised to provide more sensitive coverage.

The forum was sponsored by Micronesians United, an umbrella organization of church, cultural and other community groups with ties to Micronesia, the western region of the Pacific Ocean that is comprised of numerous island states and countries.

Masae Kintaro, originally from Palau, said Ullman's study was irresponsible for using words such as "epidemic" and "underclass" in a fashion that cast a bad light on people from throughout Micronesia. Kintaro said it was an insult that Ullman referred only to Micronesians and not the individual peoples that comprise the region.

"I'm not Micronesian, I'm a Palauan," Kintaro said.

Elma Coleman, a Marshallese, pointed out that the Marshall Islands were subjected to more than 60 nuclear tests conducted by the United States military. "We would not be here if we were not dislocated from our homelands because our lands were contaminated," she said.

Under the Compact of Free Association, those from the Federated States of Micronesia (comprised of Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Yap), the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau, are allowed relatively free movement throughout the United States and are eligible for health, education and other government aid.

Coleman also took umbrage with the use of the word "epidemic."

"When you say epidemic, that means we are all infected with all kinds of disease, that we should be sent back home or somewhere else," she said.

Chuukese Akendo Onamwar said that as an employment counselor for the Goodwill Industries of Hawaii, he gets treated differently by some clients when they discover he is Micronesian. Ullman's study and The Advertiser article only perpetuate that stereotype, he said.

"I would really appreciate it, Mr. Ullman, if you can find it in your heart to do some correction by writing an apology in the paper," he said. "Believe it or not, there has been a lot of damage done."

Kosraen Steve Palsis echoed the sentiments of many last night when he said Ullman's study and The Advertiser article reflected badly on all Micronesians.

"You've really damaged Micronesians," he said. "I hope in the future, after this, you do something positive so that we can accept you as one of us."

Ullman, who is also a student at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa's School of Social Work, said he is willing to work on something that would be printed in the newspaper and promised to work with Micronesians on other initiatives helpful to their community.

Ullman said he is not against Micronesians receiving government help, but "stupid policies that people in power take forever to change" including an emphasis on temporary rather than permanent shelter. He said he hopes the study and the article will result in positive action for all homeless.

"There are some words used in (the study) that I would agree, with another edit, I might consider taking out," he said.

"The problem of homelessness is an epidemic, Micronesians aren't," he said.

Advertiser editor Mark Platte said The Advertiser has met with Micronesians United several times in recent years to discuss concerns about negative coverage of Micronesians and told those gathered last night that it, too, was "a very helpful exercise ... I understand how you feel, everything needs to be taken in a broader context."

Platte said the newspaper will "want to look at the other side of a lot of the points that you have brought up, at some of the positive things that have been done in the community and we're going to go and put a spotlight on those things."

Advertiser publisher Lee Webber, who took on the job two weeks ago after more than three decades in Guam at the Pacific Daily News, promised to ensure that The Advertiser is empathetic to the Micronesian community. "I understand what you're talking about," he said.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com.