Homeless on Maui: How It’s Done

Sep 14, 2018

(l-r) Vernon Veach, Joey Schumacher, and Stacey Lynn Veach in the Beech's new Family Life Center affordable unit. Stacey Lynn says they lived in a beautiful home, had well-paying jobs, and two new vehicles. Their life began to unravel when she was incapacitated by seizures, then Vernon broke his collarbone in a scooter accident.
Credit Noe Tanigawa

Rain, wind and flooding on Maui have put extra pressure on the homeless.  Authorities say, some take advantage of shelters, but they aren’t sure what the majority do.  Ad hoc living spaces on the island run the gamut from a tarp to tents to shacks with electricity and wifi.  HPR’s Noe Tanigawa took a tour recently with a Maui social worker. 

Vehicles along the shoreline may indicate day visitors, but many are actually the home base for living on the beach. The Beeches were thankful for a picnic table out of the way at Kama'ole Beach 3, which became their home for 5 years.
Credit Noe Tanigawa

Joey Schumacher is an outreach worker at Family Life Center.  He stepped up when I asked, Where are the homeless on Maui? 

"I always say if you’re going to be homeless on Maui, why not live here in Kihei, right along the beautiful ocean.  Look at this!  Down in Papalaua it’s a beautiful beach all along the ocean there and there are people living in buses, vans, not just tents."

Joey’s from California but has lived and worked in Hawai‘i for nearly 40 years.  He worked at the Halekulani for ten years, then worked at the Hanohano Room before moving to Lāna‘i.  Schumacher worked as a butler at the Lodge at Koele, before moving to Maui sixteen years ago.

Schumacher:  Here, along North Kīhei road, any of the cars parked to the side could be residences. 

Schumacher says Kīhei is the province of more “high makamaka” folk, so homeless do not lounge on a pile of cardboard on the sidewalk.  Schumacher says he was homeless himself for 2 years, living out of his truck in the Kihei area.  He had jobs the whole time, and, like many, had a gym membership for daily showers and a workout. 

Schumacher:  We’re turning onto South Kīhei Road, this whole area , all this kiawe off to the left, there are 45 people living here.  There might be more, I know there are at least 45 people.

We’re standing at the edge of an overgrown field, dotted with stands of shrubbery.  There’s a t-shirt blowing on a twig, but no people in sight.  A few bicycles lie abandoned nearby, and the street is lined with vehicles.  After paying for eating out every day, gym fees, then gas and car repairs, Schumacher says,  he actually often had a little money in his pocket.  When you’re not paying rent, you can almost have a fun lifestyle, if you don’t mind not having a house.   

"It just sort of snowballed on us, and that’s how it works."

Stacey Lynn Veach and her husband Vernon, were homeless for five years at Kama‘ole Beach 3. 

Stacey Veach:  Once you start sliding down, it’s such a shock, honestly, it’s hard to get your grip back. Tony and I are beyond grateful to Joey and Family Life Center for everything they’ve done for us

Stacey Veach:  I had great income, Tony was obviously working.  We had two beautiful new vehicles.  We put everything in storage, then couldn’t pay the storage rent because we weren’t on social security yet, so we lost everything we owned.  I mean everything.  It’s pretty devastating but we’ve crawled out of it mentally and now physically, I’m doing the best I can.

Stacey Veach:  We have a lot a friends, we had a lot of vehicles, we rented a U-Haul, because at the time we still had money.  Everything went into storage.  We have friends that live in Lahaina so we would spend 4 nights at their home then spend the rest of the nights in our car.  We’d move around a lot.  Then we just decided we had to give up the vehicles.  We had already sold the Honda Santa Fe, but I still had the Celica.  We finally just bequeathed it, because first of all where do you park it?  You accrue tickets, so you just have to let things go

Life at that particular picnic table was probably as pleasant as possible.  The Beeches had good relations with law enforcement in the area, and vacationers would occationally bring by leftover food before they went to the airport.  What can you do with a half gallon of milk and no refrigeration?  Share it with other campers.  There was a certain camaraderie, but there was also nonstop insecurity.

Vernon Veach:  Three young guys roll up on you, want to bum a cigarette.  They don’t want to bum a cigarette, all they’re doing is casing out your tale, casing out your back packs, casing out what you got.  Because 85% of the time before they walk off they’ll give you a cigarette if you don’t have one.  This is where you learn to watch for.   I can tell you that after getting rolled 3 times.  You get street wise.

Stacey Beech:  Believe me, we did not want that to happen but we adapted.

Medical issues forced Frank and Kate Sandoval into homelessness. Kate was hospitalized for quadruple bypass surgery, then complications and Frank, a diabetic, was also hospitalized on O'ahu. When they returned to Maui, they were told their rent payments were gone, the residence was no longer theirs, and belongings were disposed of. They spent their first homeless night at a bus stop in front of a hospital--and in fact, lived there for months.
Credit Noe Tanigawa

Kate and Frank Sandoval lost their home after both landed in the hospital.

Kate Sandoval:  We came right out of Kaiser Moanalua Hospital back to Maui and my key did not work in my unit,  the money we sent them got cashed and spent somewhere else. Our belongings got sold.

Kate Sandoval:  Believe me, being the first time out here, not knowing what to do, and where to go and how to do things.

What did you do?  What was the first thing?

Kate Sandoval:  Cried.  Cried. And we tried to do it on our own.  Two very proud people who worked all of our lives…the first day, we sat at the bus stop in front of Kaiser Permanente.  We sat there until 2 o’clock in the morning. 

They ultimately lived there at the bus stop for three months. 

Kate Sandoval:  I’m the same person I was 30 years ago when I wore a uniform.  I am the same person.  I just experienced seven and a half months of homelessness, and that stigma has not left me yet.

People who we’ve known me for 30 years, they won’t even talk to us.  People from the church that we go to, just head down, turned all against us when they knew we were homeless.

Joey was especially concerned about Frank because he is diabetic.

Schumacher:  So when Kate would call me up and say they had no food, I was like, I have to get food to this guy.  I just didn’t want to see these guys die on the street.  And I was fearful of that every day.

Frank Sandoval:  We were pretty close to it at times.

Schumacher:  I just knew there had to be a light around the corner.  I knew there was a light around the corner.  And here it is.

Kate Sandoval:  We are living in the light.  We had nothing when we moved in here but two pants, two shirts, and a set of underwear.  Family Life Center set us up with everything in this house except the TV, a friend, Danny, brought it to us.

The Veaches are now living in affordable housing run by Family Life Center.  The Veaches receive $1500 a month in income now.  Where would they go on the open market?  A studio costs $1200-$1600 per month. Their total income.

In response to thanks from people like the Sandovals and Veaches, Maude Cumming, Executive Director of Family Life Center, replies, “It’s a privilege to serve.” 

We’ll have to take a look at hope on the horizon for affordable housing.  Maui could be a model going forward.