“With over 69 accessible beaches and average temps ranging between 75°F – 85°F, it is no wonder that an estimated 4.5 million people come to Oahu each year,” wrote Assistant Regional Representative Suzie (@RARepUSSouthW) back in March. “However, beneath our pristine beaches and pineapple filled drinks lies a deeper economical and social problem that seems to be getting worse each year as the cost of living and lack of government assisted programs make residing in Hawaii a dream of the past.”
According to a 2014 report, the state of Hawaii ranked highest among all 50 states for homeless residents per capita, with nearly 7,000 displaced citizens — some 70 percent of whom reside in Oahu alone. But despite the growing numbers, explained Suzie, real help is unusually hard to find.
“The number of available beds at shelters is very limited… practically non-existent to families in need,” she reported. But it wasn’t enough to lament the facts and post a call to action on a social media channel — instead, Suzie decided to partner up with her daughter, some fellow volunteers, and a bright young woman named Raina Whiting (founder of the grassroots effort In The Streets) to make some real waves.
After receiving Random Acts funding to complete their project, the group purchased a number of tents, sleeping bags, mattresses, and propane tanks from a local sporting goods store and headed out to a small subsection of Honolulu to begin distributing their items to families and individuals in need.
“I quickly realized I had underestimated the gravity and magnitude of the problem,” recalled Suzie upon driving through the makeshift neighborhood. “To see that less than a mile from my office was a very large community of homeless families was mind blowing and a little overwhelming to say the least.”
Although the youngest residents were timid at first, Suzie and her fellow volunteers eventually handed out all of their goods, including an extra gift for a kindhearted woman who had volunteered to help pass out items and was trying to go to college herself.
“I happened to have a bag of books that I had just finished,” recalled Suzie, “and she graciously took them all and was thrilled. She began reading one of the books immediately.”
After meeting several large families who were all trying to sleep in two small tents, the volunteers decided to give away the remaining items in full.
“They were all trying to sleep in one tent and a second tent … [made] from tarps,” said Suzie. “We quickly made the decision to gift them [a] tent, sleeping bag, a stove and a portable toilet, and two air mattresses so the kids could sleep on something soft.” With another baby on the way, Suzie explained, it was the right thing to do.
After meeting with so many families and receiving requests for diapers and shoes, the group made the decision to pursue further acts of kindness for the displaced community.
“To meet these people first hand, is to truly understand their plights,” said Suzie. “Just knowing we were able to do something kind for these families made me feel that though it was [the first of many projects], it was needed. A kind act can go a long way.”