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Homeless and Family Life On Maui

creative commons
creative commons

Family life has changed on Maui, according to Maude Cumming, Executive Director of the Family Life Center, Maui’s primary homeless outreach agency.  Changing families, population growth, and high flying real estate are all factors in the spread of homelessness, but Family Life Center is finding ways to rebuild community.  HPR’s Noe Tanigawa reports.

Noe Tanigawa
Credit Noe Tanigawa
Maude Cumming, Executive Director of Family Life Center on Maui. Cumming has been honored for her work with homeless and those in need since the 1990's. Cumming spearheads the annual Point in Time count of homeless, which this year, 2018, documented 873 unsheltered on Maui compared to 896 last year.
An education in social work with Maude Cumming, Executive Director of Maui Family Life Center

This series continues with a visit to Maui homeless encampments and a look at that life, Wednesday, 9-12-18, on The Conversation at 11am.

Maude Cumming, Executive Director of Maui’s Family Life Center, has seen a lot of changes in the last 20 years.

Cumming:  I remember growing up, everybody I knew, we all had the crazy uncle or auntie who lived with us.  Somebody made a room for them, they raked leaves all day long, and somebody made sure that they showered and they ate and it was fine.

In 1980, Maui’s population was 70 thousand residents.  Now, not even 40 years later, double that, and add 20 thousand more—that’s where we’re at, over 166 thousand. 

Cumming:  But as we’ve grown, our social networks have dissolved, and people don’t have that family network any more.  I think in Hawai‘i, then, it’s become more visible.

Cumming says another factor fed the homeless population:  when mental patients were de-institutionalized in the 1980’s, the idea was to mainstream them into community mental health facilities--- that proved not to be there.  Of course, rising Maui land prices didn't help the housing situation.  Cumming says the Housing First approach actually started in the 1990’s.

Cumming:  It took a while to see if it was actually going to produce results or not.  And it has.  It’s a proven solution.  It’s the only solution that permanently ends homelessness because you’re in permanent housing.

They had misgivings, but once Family Life Center, as a service provider, decided to give Housing First a chance, they found it works.

Cumming:  Tent cities, ‘ohana zones, they’re still homeless!  You’re not ending homelessness, you’re managing it.  I’m into ending homelessness.

Because of government supports, Cumming says landlords start to like working with them.

Cumming:  In the last year or two we really stepped up our efforts, and so we’ve found landlords who are willing to work with us even as they’re purchasing apartments.  If there’s any issue, they can call us.  They like that.  They like that the payment comes on time.  If they’re renting to the general public and they have an issue, they have nobody to call.

Cumming also leverages grants, HUD moneys, you name it, to create housing.

Cumming:  I think there are a lot of underutilized properties around the community.  We look for them all the time.

That’s how you did it!!

Noe Tanigawa
Credit Noe Tanigawa
One of Family Life Center's affordable housing complexes in Wailuku.

Cumming:  Yes.  We found the place first.  In one of the cases, we even had an architect draw up plans, we don’t  even own the building.  But should it become available, and if we can find the funding for it, and it has to be debt free, because then you can charge an affordable rent, and you can use all the money for someone to manage it and for all the upgrades. 

Cumming:  We aren’t going to address the problem doing just these small units, but I do believe each of us, even though we are small, can make a dent in the need by going after these little projects.  We still need developers to build affordable rentals.

Cumming:  I drive around O‘ahu I see a lot of empty buildings.  We won’t build from scratch.  It takes too long.  We look for underutilized, empty buildings, can we really convert it?  It’s gotta have apartment zoning.

Cumming says she and her colleagues at Family Life Center do not see as many locals on the street, perhaps because they still have family resources.  They may be couch surfing, or living in a tent in Grandma’s back yard.     

Maui’s Point In Time count, done in January 2018, documented 873 homeless, a slight drop from 2017.  Cumming, who is in charge of those counts, says approximately 20% of those people are long term homeless, while the other 80% are experiencing homelessness as a first and one time thing.

Where are the homeless on Maui?

We’ll take a ride with social worker, Joey Schumacher ahead.

Noe Tanigawa covers art, culture and ideas for Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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