Late last month, the police called Puʻuhonua O Waiʻanae leader Twinkle Borge for help. 50 people were being swept from nearby Lahilahi Point and they had nowhere to go.
Without any fanfare or government money, Twinkle took in 50 people who had been living on the beach and in the bush. Within days, she had connected folks to services, medical care and even permanent housing. The rest are settling in as new residents of Puʻuhonua O Waiʻanae.
As someone who lives on Oahu and sees the human suffering caused by our houselessness crisis, I'm grateful to Twinkle and Puʻuhonua O Waiʻanae for the action they took. I'm grateful for the actions they take every day, providing a home for 300 people, feeding other houseless people, and mentoring those who want to organize themselves.
The very same week these 50 new folks arrived at Puʻuhonua O Waiʻanae, the local paper applauded a new City-funded housing development opened in Waianae. One major difference with Puʻuhonua O Waiʻanae, though, is that Kauhale Kamaile, which houses 50 people in 16 units, cost the City more than $5 million to develop and charges rent between $980 and $1,200 per month.
Puʻuhonua O Waiʻanae cannot house all of Hawaii's houseless, but it does model how to provide the safety, stability, and healing people need to make progress in their lives. It provides an alternative approach where the old ways of sweeps, temporary shelters and criminalization have failed.
Twinkle calls this approach "community first" because it's built on trust and relationships that allow us to support each other as whole human beings. It was these kinds of relationships that allowed her to roll up to Lahilahi Point last month and call people out by name.
She knew them, and they knew and trusted her. So when she said, "Let's go home," they did.