Homeless in Paradise

May 20, 2015
Smaller photo of program working with children experiencing homelessness in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Image of a makeshift home by a Hawaiian beach.

By Michelle Sauve, Intergovernmental Affairs Specialist, Administration for Native Americans

Beautiful beaches, gorgeous skies and amazing cultures can be found in Hawaii. These scenic experiences often makes one forget about the harsh realities of island life.

Homelessness is on the rise in O‘ahu, Hawaii, with an increase in the “newly homeless.” Native Hawaiians have been hit especially hard by this crisis. They account for 42.2 percent of O‘ahu’s total homeless population.

Native Hawaiians make up the largest population (30 percent) of all ethnic groups in city and county of Honolulu homeless shelters. The majority of these shelters are located on the Leeward Coast. Since 2007, Partners in Development (PID) has been providing a free pre-school program here for Native Hawaiian children experiencing homelessness.

Larger photo of program working with children experiencing homelessness in Honolulu, Hawaii.Families with young children have an especially difficult time. They lack the supports needed for their children while they work to address the causes of their homelessness. PID has found great success in involving families in shelters, transitional living and supportive housing situations once they have formed a relationship around preschool services to children.

Since 2010, we have supported this anti-poverty effort with crucial grant funding.

PID used a grant from the Administration for Native Americans to develop a preschool curriculum. Providing a high quality early learning experience was a top priority for PID.  Many Native Hawaiian children start school unprepared.  This contributes to poorer school outcomes down the road, so they knew that a quality program was important.

Now, the Ka Pa‘alana Homeless Family Education Program is one of the few homeless preschools accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the gold standard for preschool programs.   The program for children includes:

  • Early literacy
  • Art
  • Sensory activities 
  • Health and wellness screenings
  • Parent education on early childhood development 

However, in order to address the cycle of poverty, the program equally focuses on the needs of parents. While the children are attending preschool, PID offers moms and dads the following:

  • Adult education
  • Vocational training
  • Basic computer skills
  • Resume and interview preparation

PID also teaches folks about Native Hawaiian culture, advocacy skills and civic responsibility. The program shows them that they can make a difference in the social conditions that lead to homelessness.

A New Focus on Health

PID has a new grant with ANA to expand and improve the existing program. PID aims to better meet the health needs of young children and their families. It will incorporate health and wellness into all aspects of early learning year round.  As a second goal, PID will address the need for increased healthy lifestyle education, positive parenting, and a health and wellness program and support services among Ka Paʻalana adult participants.

Over the three years of this grant, PID hopes to reach 500 children experiencing homelessness. They also hope to improve the health and parenting skills of 300 homeless Native Hawaiian adults and caregivers.

We are very impressed with PID’s work and look forward to seeing more families helped. This is just one of many bright examples of the work we do to end poverty throughout the region.

In fiscal year 2014, ANA funded 22 grants to Hawaii and the Pacific territories of Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Marianna Islands, and American Samoa totaling $6.7 million.  Grants fund social and economic development projects developed by the community. The grants also support Native American language activities.