Three months ago, Chris Lee flew to Hawaii to clear his mind after his wife of 20 years left him. But instead of being robbed, the 62-year-old California resident was robbed of his wallet and phone in Waikiki.
He says his pride stood in the way of his son calling for help, so Lee stayed at the hotel as long as he could afford it while pretending to return home.
But the money flowed in, and Lee became homeless, spending many nights on the beach.
“Imagine walking like this,” Lee said in an interview outside St. Augustine’s Church in Waikiki, pointing to the clothes he was wearing. “It’s not nice, and you don’t know who.”
Lee is one of many people who have become homeless in Hawaii while moving or visiting from the mainland. But a program involving people in their public home helped Lee return to his family.
The relocation program was launched in 2015 to target homeless people in Waikiki, where the population is high, but has expanded to the rest of Oahu as well as Maui and Kauai. Those who have returned home are a mix of visitors and people who are willing to start a new life in Hawaii.
The Institute of Human Services, which oversees the relocation program, invested $20,000 to jump start it for the first two years, while private donations continued to fund it, according to executive director Connie Mitchell.
The program pays for half the air to send 599 refugees from Oahu to the mainland while families pay for the rest.
He also provides counseling before flying them to the mainland.
Jill Wright, director of philanthropy and community relations at the Institute for Human Services, said the program has been repeated for homeless people with families in Micronesia, American Samoa and Guam. He also sent people home to California, Oregon, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Missouri and Montana.
“Wherever they have family, we try to help them,” Wright said.
But the program people sometimes lose their phone, it is difficult to continue with the families.
Last month, a woman in Utah was contacted about her father’s proposal, whom she had been searching for for five years. But his father lost his phone, eventually losing connection.
In partnership, the Southwest Airlines program was released earlier this year to the treasury. However, Wright said they are only for certain situations, such as a victim of domestic violence or someone undergoing cancer treatment.
Wright said people have searched for refugees through intake programs and churches, adding that the program only helps people return home if they have a stable support system when they get there.
Others, Wright said, called families to the hospice asking if their loved ones were there. However, he said it is difficult to track if foreign people go by a different name. Wright added that the security now has 45 people from the continent.
Steve Berg, president of programs and policy for the National Alliance to End Homelessness, said these initiatives have been in place for years, adding that they have had mixed results in different states. He said that in order for the program to succeed, the authorities must ensure that those who flew home have access to family and social services and conduct annual check-ups.
According to Bergas, some organizations give homeless people the option of flying or taking the train with their loved ones. However, the only way to get to Hawaii is to fly. People who live in Hawaii, let alone move here, have struggled with the high cost of living.
Berg said the program isn’t to pay for overall homelessness, but to connect people with resources in a different way.
“When they’re done right, when they have a place to live in a new place, a warm hand to serve providers, and a follow-up to strengthen the system, then they can help the most,” says Berg. . “A lot of people don’t have those resources somewhere, but it’s not the ultimate solution.”
Scott Morishige, Hawaii shelter coordinator, said the program is critical to getting some homeless people back into their families.
“It provides another tool in the toolbox,” Morishige said. “The goal of refugee providers is to connect people to a stable place, whether it’s a housing unit or a connection with family.”
The problem with homeless people in Hawaii is complex. Wright said people’s conditions range from visitors who want to start a new life in Hawaii, but it’s not a factor in the high cost of living for people who get robbed on their way.
Lee, who said he had been robbed four times in Waikiki, had joined a relocation program through St. Augustine Church, which had provided him with showers and food. Lee said the church helped connect him to the relocation program.
A couple of weeks ago, Lee was reunited with her son. Lee cried, and said that he could not tell his son about his business, because he did not want to trouble him.
Last Friday, Lee returned home to Anaheim, California. Once Lee left, he immediately hugged his son.
“He said he felt like it,” Lee said in a phone interview from Anaheim. “I told him how much I missed him, and I didn’t want to hurt him.”
He advises visitors to “do your homework with your questions before you come to Hawaii.”
“I have met good friends, but I am not here,” he said.
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