Officers’ new work program gives homeless chance to earn incentives while helping community

  • Officer Wyatt Nahale came up with an innovative program to help the homeless. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • In June at Umekes Fish Market Bar and Grill, Community Policing Officer Reuben Pukahi talks about working together at a community meeting to address the homeless situation. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Two Kona community policing officers are thinking outside of the box when it comes to addressing the homeless population in Kailua Village.

Officers Wyatt Nahale and Reuben Pukahi were talking about the transient situation several weeks ago when their idea dawned on them.

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“We were sitting back and I was thinking what haven’t we done?” Nahale said. “There’s a lot of things not working, we’re hearing the complaints. What can we do that’s outside of the box that we haven’t done? And it just came to me.”

He asked Pukahi what he thought about his vision to organize a group of homeless people to do projects in the community. After an initial reaction of disbelief, Pukahi was on board.

That’s how it all started.

The basis of HONOUR (Homeless Outreach Nurturing Our Community) is to integrate the homeless back into the community by having them work on projects under positive guidance.

“So whether it’s cleaning specific areas in our community or participating in community projects or events or going down to Old Airport and painting buildings, it gives them a little dignity to be seen in a positive light. And they feel a little ownership in their community,” said Nahale. “It’s a win-win. They’re cleaning up the community and at the same time trying to establish themselves back into the mainstream of society again.”

Nahale went up the ranks of the department with his idea and received a positive response and support for the proposal.

Next, Nahale and Pukahi reached out to community-based programs. Hope Services was excited to partner with them for the project and put the call out for homeless volunteers to join the program.

Carrie Hoopii, outreach team leader for Hope Services, is optimistic about the opportunity.

“This is a positive thing for our community and homeless population,” she said. “Working together with police and volunteers, everybody can come together and take away the stigma of homelessness.”

Nahale said he contacted other stakeholders to get feedback before launching the program.

Parks and Recreation Department agreed to provide trash bags and bag pickup for clean-up days.

Area businesses and faith-based service providers supported the idea when he presented at the Community Alliance Partners monthly meeting.

“They’re all on board,” said Nahale.

He is also working out the particulars with First Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Dale Ross to have volunteer hours eligible for court-ordered community service.

He spoke to Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas, who has been actively looking for innovative ways to address the problem.

“I’m really excited to be there and participate,” Villegas said. “My hopes are there that it provides opportunity for those that are homeless to be part of the solution and give back.”

She also urged community members to “step up, step in, and stand next to” people struggling, creating a point of connection and common goal.

Nahale said the program will also guide them through an identification system so they can try to get them their ID, which is needed to get jobs and travel again.

“A lot of homeless don’t have IDs,” said Nahale. “They either loose them or they expire,” he said noting the cumbersome system to obtain an ID in the state.

He hopes to provide funding so if they want to go home to the mainland to be with family or enter a rehabilitation treatment facility out of state, they could provide that through incentives.

“The truth is on the streets,” he said. “Their home states sent them here with a one-way ticket. It is HONOUR’s goal to send them back. A lot tell us they want to go back but don’t have the means.”

Nahale added he has talked to many homeless who were sent here from all over the mainland.

An Oct. 26 story in the New York Post confirmed that the Big Apple has sent local homeless families to 373 cities across the country, including Hawaii, with a full year of rent in their pockets as part of Mayor Bill deBlasio’s “Special One-Time Assistance Program” Usually, the receiving city knows nothing about it.

State Rep. John M. Mizuno (Kalihi Valley, Kamehameha Heights, portion of Lower Kalihi) on Friday wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr asking for an investigation into the allegations.

Funding for HONOUR will be facilitated through 808 Homeless Task Force, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to rehabilitating homeless individuals back into the mainstream of society.

Hawaii County Deputy Managing Director Barbara Kossow was so excited about the idea she submitted an application to the Ironman Foundation for a grant to provide incentive gift cards that would exclude alcohol and tobacco purchases.

“The police are taking ownership in doing this, so we need to support them,” said Kossow. “They are members of our community too, not just police officers.”

Nahale echoed the sentiment.

“There’s a lot of them (homeless) that need that sense of humanity; why not have it coming from a police officer and take that humanitarian role beside the enforcement side of it?” said Nahale.

He said the program is based upon the police department and homeless community coming together to restore faith back into the homeless population again.

He said homeless individuals have told him that they are tired of being labeled because of the troublemakers and want to do something good for the community.

Nahale has set the first clean-up for Nov. 14. Although an area has yet to have been established, he is envisioning Pawai Place to Old Airport. Those wishing to participate should meet at Hope Services at 7:30 a.m.

He is starting with the plan of holding events twice a month, but is hopeful that it will become successful enough to expand to once a week.

His would like to eventually use the volunteers to paint the bathrooms and dugouts and clean the fields at Old Kona Airport Park along with the street cleanups.

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Other agencies have been offering monetary donations along with care packs. Nahale is also seeking businesses willing to give donations.

For more information contact Nahale or Pukahi at 326-4646 ext. 257 or Hoopii at 217-6183.

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