A group of 17 Oahu nonprofit organizations will receive $4.5 million collectively over the next three years to address issues related to housing and financial stability, the Aloha United Way and Hawaii Community Foundation announced Thursday.

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Known as the 2022-24 ALICE Initiative, the program is designed to help working families in Hawaii, where a high cost of living and relatively low wages leave many people struggling to get by. The Aloha United Way estimates that as of 2020 59% of Hawaii households were working but having a hard time making ends meet, with no safety net for emergencies.

The ALICE Initiative is meant to bring together the nonprofits in a multiyear, quasi-collaborative endeavor, said Suzanne Skjold, Aloha United Way’s chief operating officer.

The three-year program provides more continuity than a traditional one-year grant program, Skjold said. In addition, recipients are given more discretion on how to spend the money than those involved in typical grant programs. Finally, the 17 recipients will come together multiple times a year to share ideas, she said, another departure from typical grants.

“We’re really looking for long-term systemic changes,” she said.

Volunteers pack pineapples into bags to be loaded into cars at the big food distribution event held at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, HI, Wednesday, May 6, 2020. The city of Honolulu, Hawaii Foodbank, and Hawaii Community Foundation collaborated to put on the event providing food for approximately 4,000 Oahu households. (Ronen Zilberman photo Civil Beat)
Covid-19 problems showed how many families were living paycheck to paycheck on Oahu as local groups provided free food early in the pandemic. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2020

Michelle Kauhane, the Hawaii Community Foundation’s senior vice president for community grants and initiatives, agreed.

The foundation has been working to make changes in the community, she said, just as the Aloha United Way has been working to address families considered ALICE, an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.

The foundation’s so-called CHANGE Framework calls for using common data, setting shared goals and taking collective action, she said, adding that the collaboration with the United Way and the other recipients embodies these principles.

“We’ve raised awareness about ALICE,” she said. “It’s not just an acronym. It’s our cousin, our auntie, someone we know.”

Suzanne Skjold is chief operating officer of Aloha United Way. 

The goal is to go from raising awareness to changing lives since housing is fundamental. “Without a roof over your head, it’s so hard to think about other things,” she said.

The question is how to get there. There might not be one answer.

For instance, Skjold said one organization, the Hawaii Home Ownership Center, works to help ALICE families put together what they will need to buy a home for the first time.

Another recipient, the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, believes government-owned rental housing provides a more realistic pathway for most people. In any event, a key is to provide some level of stability so people do not face ever increasing monthly rent payments.

The ALICE reports show just how many people are vulnerable, Thornton said.

“When AUW puts out this information it just makes it really clear to people that this is a systemic problem,” he said. “We have a fundamental problem with our economy if so many people are struggling.”

“Fundamentally, I think its adopting a new perspective on housing, which is really housing as a human right. And that’s a really big shift from where we’re at,” he added.

Also receiving grants are the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, Family Promise of Hawaii, Feed the Hunger Fund, Goodwill Hawaii, Hawaii Childrenʻs Action Network, Institute for Native Pacific Education and Culture, Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, Waikiki Community Center, Residential Youth Services and Empowerment, Catholic Charities Hawaii, Hawaiian Community Assets Inc., The Institute for Human Services Inc., Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services, Parents And Children Together Services and Partners in Development Foundation.

Struggling To Get By” is part of our series on “Hawaii’s Changing Economy” which is supported by a grant from the Hawaii Community Foundation as part of its CHANGE Framework project.

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