I’ve never met Twinkle Borges or James Pakele, but I’m a big fan of both.

In 2004, as a graduate student, I spent some time on the Waianae coast trying to untangle the dynamics of growing “houselessness.” I visited the residents of the makeshift village that popped up mauka of the Waianae Boat Harbor.

Twinkle Borge and James Pakele announce the purchase of 5 acres of agriculture land located near Waianae Valley Road.

Twinkle Borge and James Pakele represent a community pushed out by the housing market that now has a plan to provide itself shelter.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

I quickly learned that “houselessness” is infinitely more complex than most people understand. Many, if not the majority, of the families I spoke with recalled a path to homelessness that included being pushed out by rental prices that skyrocketed in the 1990s and early 2000s, often to make real estate available online for out-of-state buyers.

Most also worked, but their wages just couldn’t keep up with the cost-of-living. Many had shelter options with family members, but often it would have required splitting up the family, so they chose to be unsheltered rather than live apart.

In my opinion, there is a critical difference between those who are chronically homeless due to drugs or mental illness and the many families and individuals I spoke with who were simply priced out of an unaffordable housing market.

From what I see, Twinkle Borges, James Pakele, and Pu‘uhonua o Wai‘anae represent the latter: a community of families and individuals who were effectively pushed out of housing due to a societal failure to provide an adequate inventory for working class and underemployed people.

What’s also important to understand is that the chronically homeless, who have a demonstrated propensity for criminal behavior and violence, pose just as much, if not a greater, threat to Hawaii’s “houseless,” like many of those at the Waianae Boat Harbor. This chronically homeless community also has different needs, and the new Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program being implemented by the Honolulu Police Department downtown seems to be showing some promising early results.

The toolbox for addressing Hawaii’s unsheltered population needs to be diverse, but also innovative.

This is why realizing the vision to provide Pu‘uhonua o Wai‘anae with a safe and secure site is so important. This is a solution for the community – by the community. I firmly believe that those of us who have been fortunate enough not to be priced out of housing in Hawaii owe support to those who have been forced to live unsheltered.

It’s what island communities do; we help one another.

For years now, the leaders and members of Pu‘uhonua o Wai‘anae have been diligently working towards self-sufficiency. The vision is inspiring.

Puʻuhonua O Waiʻanae is a village of approximately 250 people living unhoused on the leeward side of Oʻahu. A majority of residents are Native Hawaiians. It is a community-first approach to homelessness that:

  • Self-organized at nearly zero cost to taxpayers.
  • Gets people the help they need – medical care, social services, school supplies, food security and permanent shelter.
  • Provides safety, healing, and purpose through a community of aloha.

When realized, it will mark not only an incredible achievement for these 250 people, but an important indicator that communities, when given the opportunity and resources, can create their own solutions. It will demonstrate that for people, many of them working families who have unfortunately found themselves homeless, the answer is community and not criminalization.

I have never been homeless. I have never been in danger of becoming homeless. I’ve never had to worry about having enough food. I have always had access to high-quality medical care. I cannot even begin to understand many of the day-to-day struggles this community faces, but I am in complete awe of their ability to not only navigate their challenges but to also rise so mightily above them.

They are, at the time of writing, approximately $557,000 away from their $1.5 million goal. This is an achievable goal. There is a GoFundMe page for anyone who wants to donate.

I hope people donate. Not simply because we should all want to see our fellow residents sheltered and secured, but because we should all rise to respond to their call for help. It’s what island communities do; we help one another. And I have no doubt that this effort can become a shining example of the depth of our generosity and the lasting resilience of aloha.

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About the Author

  • Trisha Kehaulani Watson
    Trisha Kehaulani Watson is a Kaimuki resident, small business owner, and bibliophile. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii and J.D. from the William S. Richardson School of Law. She writes about environmental issues, cultural resource management, and the intersection between culture and politics. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can follow or contact her on Twitter at @hehawaiiau.