Faith-motivated responses to Hawaii’s homelessness epidemic was the topic of “Housing the Houseless,” a well-attended panel discussion at Chaminade University. Moderated by Hawaii News Now TV reporter and weather anchor Ben Gutierrez, the March 12 event was part of the Mackey Marianist Lecture Series: Catholicism in Prophetic Dialogue.
Panelist Peter Savio, a real estate broker/developer and social worker, characterized homelessness as a symptom of a greater problem – that being the high cost of housing in the Aloha State. As a result, many renters are just one paycheck away from losing their homes.
Savio called for construction of affordable housing units financed by low-interest government loans. He also favors expansion of home ownership through equity-building rent-to-own projects that create “hope and opportunity” for lower-income families and individuals.
Panelist Terry Walsh, the new president and CEO of Catholic Charities Hawaii, believes in a “housing first” approach to getting people off the streets. First provide shelter and meals for these needy individuals, Walsh said. Then tackle more deep-seated challenges such as alcohol abuse, drug addiction and mental illness.
“It takes a community to address this problem,” Walsh emphasized. “All of us together.”
Rounding out the panel were Dave and Bernie Reeves, retired teachers from Chaminade College Preparatory School in West Hills, California, and chairs of the Homelessness and Affordable Housing Committee at St. Ann’s Parish in Kaneohe.
Bernie Reeves, who volunteers for the state’s annual point-in-time homeless count, said the crisis is worse than the numbers indicate. That’s because many street people decline to provide information about themselves to outreach workers.
According to the statewide count from a single night in 2016, there were 7,921 homeless in Hawaii, up 4 percent from the previous year. More than half those counted lacked shelter of any kind.
“You have to organize individuals to solve problems,” Dave Reeves urged. Homeless people can help themselves to an extent, he said, “but they cannot do it alone.”
The Mackey Marianist Lecture Series has been sponsored for 20 years by Chaminade, Saint Louis School and the Marianist Center of Hawaii. The twice-annual lectures are dedicated to the memory of Chaminade’s first president, Father Robert R. Mackey, SM.