Options for the Unhoused
By Jack Kiyonaga, Reporter
For Molokai’s unhoused population, there could be relief in a new, fast-moving program.
Oahu’s Blanche McMillian is the CEO of Hui Mahi’ai Aina and an advisor to Gov. Josh Green. She arrived on Molokai last Friday morning with a proposal based on her own experiences.
One of 17 children, McMillian described the actions of her family and her Christian faith as the basis of her work with Hawaii’s homeless. McMillian has dedicated her life to putting that faith and upbringing into action. Through her Hui Mahi’ai Aina foundation, McMillian has built permanent homes for over 60 people.
“I needed to show them light,” said McMillian.
McMillian’s program focuses on offering “housing and culturally appropriate practices, to assist the houseless…to become self-sufficient, employable and independent,” according to the Hui Mahi’ai Aina vision statement.
Spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic, McMillian was able to construct immediate housing opportunities on her own land on Oahu. The model she employed uses “the old Hawaiian style” by having residents work the land in agriculture.
“Take care of the ‘aina and the’ aina takes care of you,” explained McMillian.
In addition to agriculture, formerly homeless residents are empowered to run their own community and to become leaders, she said.
Friday’s meeting at the Molokai Veterans Center was organized by Molokai’s Zhantell Lindo, head of the Maui County Commission on Healing Solutions for Homelessness, and included community representatives like County Councilmember Keani Rawlins-Fernandez.
The goal of the meeting was to start a conversation around possible lands that could be turned into a similar housing opportunity for Molokai’s community.
McMillian, acting in her role as advisor to the governor, explained that she was looking for a property of over ten acres where this could be accomplished. McMillian is also looking to create a Molokai-specific plan to take to the governor.
According to attendees at Friday’s meeting, Molokai’s unhoused population sits at about 25 people, most of whom are from Molokai originally. Additionally, attendees estimated that there are at least double that, with many “hidden homeless” on Molokai.
Hidden homeless are those who are housing-insecure, explained Lindo — “couch-surfers.” Many of these hidden homeless often include young people, kupuna and those who are ill and unable to find permeant housing solutions.
With the extreme scarcity of housing state-wide and on Molokai, McMillian’s project could represent “the only truly affordable housing project in the state,” said Lindo.
For McMillian’s Waimanalo community, she used donated pallet homes centered around a communal kitchen and bathroom to keep costs low. McMillian only charges residents a $125 per month program fee which covers utilities.
She operates with no government funding, which allows her the ability to bypass stringent housing regulations, according to Lindo.
“She has saved the State of Hawaii millions of dollars and is now enlisted by Gov. Green to assist with implementing projects like hers on each island,” Lindo said.
Right now, for Molokai community members, the goal was to “start locally first,” explained Lindo, and examine where a program like this could begin. Currently, Lindo is looking at faith-based groups like churches to see if any church lands could be converted into housing.
While the project is still in a conversation phase, McMillan explained that “if you want to do this, move fast.”
Molokai residents can be on the lookout for an upcoming community meeting focusing on homelessness and solutions here on Molokai.