A one-woman army has taken to the streets to address Kona’s homeless problem.
Regina Weller, founder of the nonprofit 808 Homeless Task Force, is using her more than 25 years experience helping the homeless in Los Angeles to address the crisis here in Kona.
Weller came West Hawaii in 2018 at the request of friends who believed she could help address the worsening situation in their town.
“I saw it was manageable here after surveying the whole island,” recalled Weller, who made the move shortly after her husband’s death. “I laid out a plan that I am doing now. 808 Homeless Task Force is just me.”
She believes the model being used in West Hawaii isn’t working.
“Just use your eyes and see: It’s getting worse and worse,” she said, “and you keep on throwing money at it.”
Weller takes a different approach than many outreach groups working to address homelessness on Hawaii Island: she only helps those that are drug- and alcohol-free who want to help themselves.
“These are people who have a vision for themselves. I tell them I’m not a ‘momma organization’ that’s going to feed you because that’s going to strip your dignity,” she said. “We find out who you are, what you like to do and what’s possible, within reason. Then, let’s take baby steps.”
She also looks for willingness, because that quality in a person is key to success in a person succeeding in getting off the streets.
“I learn their story and try to change their perspective about themselves and let them know that they are important. My goal is to bring them back into the mainstream and provide them with a path where they have a vision for themselves,” Weller said.
One such case was a family that was homeless and living on Alii Drive. When she approached them and asked what happened, the father said they’d been without a home for a year and a half after his roofing tools were stolen out of his truck that broke down.
“I said, ‘what if I buy you some tools?” recalled Weller.
He picked out the tools he needed and she paid for them that same day. Weller also bought him a truck and found them a place to live.
“I just talked to him two days ago. He is working full time for a roofing company — as if nothing ever happened,” she said.
She has also reconnected several homeless individuals with family on the mainland, going as far as paying their way back home.
“I can’t send somebody who is homeless to another region to be homeless, it’s unethical,” she said. “I won’t send them unless there is a family member who is willing to accept them.”
Weller’s approach appears to be working, even so far as those needing help finding ways to reach Weller on their own.
Partnering with Hawaii Police Department Kona Community Policing Officers Wyatt Nahale and Reuben Pukahi, Weller has placed 28 individuals in permanent housing in a five-month period.
“Officers Nahale and Pukahi have the biggest hearts. They help me tremendously,” she said. “They meet people and have them connect with me. They know their backgrounds better than anybody. Together, we are a little force to be reckoned with.”
Weller hopes to get funding through her 501(c)3 to bolster her army with a staff of outreach workers. Outreach and engagement are critical to the success of 808 Homeless Task Force.
“I want to hire people and teach them the approach. I’m an old lady, so when I’m gone I want to leave it to others. I hope to get some tangible funding next year, because I have seen what can be done with this approach,” she said, adding she takes no compensation for her work.
To make a tax deductible donation to the 808 Homeless Task Force, visit www.808homelesstaskforce.org.