‘We’re here now, and we’re go­ing to make it work’

A Waikiki beach­boy finds shel­ter through the city’s new tran­si­tional hous­ing cen­ter

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - By Dan Nakaso

Af­ter 10 years on the streets of the Waikiki area and 202 days in the city’s new tran­si­tional hous­ing com­mu­nity on Sand Is­land, the last of the orig­i­nal clients to en­ter Hale Mauli­ola moved out last week and into a new apart­ment in McCully.

Clay­ton “Un­cle Clay” Go­hier, a 75-yearold Waikiki beach­boy, and his wife, Ver­ena, 57, con­sid­ered their turn of for­tune last week as they waited in their one-bed­room, 506-square-foot apart­ment for a truck­load of do­nated fur­ni­ture to ar­rive from Help­ing Hands Hawaii.

Asked what it’s been like to wake up in the first place of his own in a decade, Un­cle Clay said, “It’s beau­ti­ful. This is a place I can call our home. We were on the street for a long time.”

Ver­ena, an ad­mit­ted neat freak, busily or­ga­nized linens, wiped down jalousies

and prepped the apart­ment for the ar­rival of a dinette set, bed, chairs and kitchen tools.

“I love it,” Ver­ena de­clared. “I get to clean up my own house and scrub ev­ery­thing. I never did that for years.”

Clay said that se­lect­ing their fur­ni­ture at Help­ing Hands “was like be­ing a kid again point­ing at stuff in a crack seed store.”

The Go­hiers rep­re­sent the last of Hale Mauli­ola’s orig­i­nal 38 clients who moved in be­tween Novem­ber and Jan­uary to join the city’s first at­tempt at build­ing a tran­si­tional com­mu­nity for home­less peo­ple out of re­fur­bished ship­ping con­tain­ers.

Since open­ing, Hale Mauli­ola has housed 214 home­less adults and cou­ples — and their pets, for the first time — in 25 ship­ping con­tain­ers.

Some 96 of them have since moved into “sta­ble and/or per­ma­nent hous­ing,” said Kimo Car­valho, spokesman for the In­sti­tute for Hu­man Ser­vices, which runs Hale Mauli­ola on a con­tract with the city.

An­other 54 clients left Hale Mauli­ola on their own. Of them, 38 “sim­ply aban­doned their units,” and 16 ended up back on the street, Car­valho said.

This week 64 peo­ple were liv­ing in Hale Mauli­ola. The typ­i­cal client spends an aver­age of 60 days there. The short­est stay to date has been 14 days.

But peo­ple, like the Go­hiers, with se­vere money prob­lems rep­re­sent the big­gest chal­lenge in mov­ing out of Hale Mauli­ola and into a per­ma­nent home, Car­valho said.

Car­valho grew up help­ing Clay Go­hier and other beach­boys in Waikiki and con­sid­ers him a cal­abash un­cle.

Go­hier is a colon can­cer sur­vivor and re­cently had an op­er­a­tion on a badly in­fected leg. He col­lects $700 per month in dis­abil­ity pay­ments and $200 per month in food as­sis­tance. Ver­ena Go­hier col­lects $300 per month in food as­sis­tance.

There’s no way they could af­ford even a stu­dio apart­ment near Waikiki, so their only hope was the city’s Hous­ing First pro­gram, which re­quires them to pay 30 per­cent of their in­come to­ward their rent. The city pays the bal­ance on their $1,250-per-month apart­ment for up to two years.

The idea is that the Go­hiers will even­tu­ally be able to save enough money for an apart­ment they can af­ford on their own.

Given their lim­ited in­come, Car­valho ac­knowl­edged that it will be a strug­gle to keep the Go­hiers housed once their Hous­ing First agree­ment ends.

“We have these Un­cle Clays of our com­mu­nity on fixed in­comes that are so low while rents are go­ing up that they’re go­ing to end up home­less, and that’s not fair to them,” Car­valho said.

To help peo­ple like the Go­hiers, First Hawai­ian Bank will be­gin teach­ing bud­get­ing skills and fi­nan­cial man­age­ment cour­ses at Hale Mauli­ola at no cost to res­i­dents, start­ing Sept. 7.

Un­cle Clay, who is three-quar­ters Hawai­ian, grew up in Wind­ward Oahu and never got be­yond the sev­enth grade. “I liked the wa­ter so much,” he said by way of ex­pla­na­tion.

He loves tak­ing tourists on out­rig­ger ca­noe rides in Waikiki, but ended up liv­ing in his Ford Wind­star van, which he even­tu­ally had to sell.

Like many of Oahu’s home­less, he had zero in­ter­est in en­ter­ing a home­less shel­ter, so he spent 10 years crash­ing on friends’ couches but mostly slept out­side around the Ka­pahulu area.

“I couldn’t pay rent,” he said. “No mo’ money.”

Then last year he reached out to Car­valho af­ter see­ing him in news re­ports talk­ing about the na­tion’s high­est per-capita rate of home­less­ness.

“I said, ‘I know that guy,’” Go­hier re­mem­bered. “No­body had helped me but Kimo.”

Mayor Kirk Cald­well has em­pha­sized that Hale Mauli­ola is much more than a col­lec­tion of ship­ping con­tain­ers to house peo­ple.

On-site so­cial ser­vice work­ers from IHS work with Hale Mauli­ola’s res­i­dents through a con­cept known as a “nav­i­ga­tion cen­ter” to find per­ma­nent hous­ing while of­ten deal­ing with a range of prob­lems — from sub­stance abuse to phys­i­cal abuse to an all-too-com­mon in­abil­ity to keep up with the high cost of liv­ing in Hawaii.

Af­ter he and Ver­ena were placed in Hale Mauli­ola as part of the orig­i­nal wave of clients, Clay be­came a fa­vorite of Cald­well when­ever the mayor vis­ited.

Last week Clay proudly showed off the pot­ted lai (ti) plant Cald­well gave him, which now sits in his liv­ing room.

The mayor’s of­fice said the plant sym­bol­izes “good luck, pro­tec­tion and heal­ing” and hinted that it also rep­re­sents the 10 years that Un­cle Clay spent on the street.

The plant, Cald­well spokesman Jay Parasco said, “sur­vives and thrives in hot and cold cli­mates, rain or shine.”

In a state­ment, Cald­well told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that “Hale Mauli­ola was cre­ated as Hawaii’s first Hous­ing Nav­i­ga­tion Cen­ter in or­der to place peo­ple like Un­cle Clay and Aun­tie Ver­ena into per­ma­nent hous­ing. Dif­fer­ent peo­ple have dif­fer­ent needs, and it takes an en­tire team — gov­ern­ment, non­profit and pri­vate sec­tor — work­ing to­gether to nav­i­gate each client into hous­ing. Af­ter years of liv­ing un­shel­tered, the Go­hiers took a leap of faith and came to Hale Mauli­ola. To­day, they have a home.”

Gra­cie Suaglar, an IHS hous­ing spe­cial­ist, con­tin­ues to work with the Go­hiers and said Un­cle Clay’s health scares helped mo­ti­vate him to get off the street.

“He said if some­thing hap­pened to Un­cle, he wanted his wife to have a safe place to call home,” Suaglar said.

Clay has since re­con­nected with some of the home­less peo­ple he used to see in Waikiki, and they’re cu­ri­ous about life in Hale Mauli­ola, which he highly rec­om­mends.

But he’s both re­al­is­tic and op­ti­mistic about whether a pro­gram that worked for him will work for oth­ers who are home­less in Hawaii.

“Some peo­ple you can get off the street,” he said. “Some peo­ple you can’t. But we’re here now, and we’re go­ing to make it work. Be­cause I never gave up hope.”

DEN­NIS ODA / DODA@STARAD­VER­TISER.COM

Clay­ton “Un­cle Clay” Go­hier and his wife, Ver­ena, rev­eled Tues­day in their new one-bed­room apart­ment in McCully, ac­quired through the city’s Hous­ing First pro­gram and new tran­si­tional hous­ing com­mu­nity at Sand Is­land, which uti­lizes ship­ping con­tain­ers.

DEN­NIS ODA / DODA@STARAD­VER­TISER.COM

“Un­cle Clay” Go­hier watched as Russ Lapera of Help­ing Hands Hawaii and Gra­cie Suaglar, In­sti­tute for Hu­man Ser­vices, un­loaded fur­ni­ture from HHH for Go­hier’s new apart­ment, his first home in 10 years.

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