Poverty is characterized by insecurity, instability, and stress. When a family does not have enough money to meet even the basic needs of housing, food, transportation, and medicine, they will, by necessity, go without at least one of these essentials for some period of time. A family in poverty will be homeless at some point. They will go hungry at some point. They will miss work or appointments for lack of transportation. They will suffer unnecessarily from treatable illnesses.
Hawaii is no different from any other state in the US. We have poverty, homelessness, and hunger. We have families living in poverty and rural isolation who struggle every month with the hard choices of what to do without. Here in Puna, on the Big Island of Hawaii, approximately 30% of the households are living in poverty. Many of these families live in substandard housing: simple shacks, converted vehicles, under tarps, or in unpermitted homes.
Families living on the edge lack a financial safety net. They are the most vulnerable to disaster and mishap. Unfortunately, two disasters struck Puna this year. In August Hurricane Iselle came ashore over Puna. Now lava threatens the town of Pahoa, in the heart of Puna.
It has been a tremendously stressful few months. Neighborhood Place of Puna is helping a record number of families with our ongoing in-home family strengthening. We are also providing emergency food assistance as well as helping families and individuals deal with the two disasters.
It is a tough situation and we are doing what we can. We certainly aren’t the only ones trying to help. There are many passionate people, and several wonderful agencies, doing good work to help the individuals and families in our community, especially those who are disenfranchised and stuck in a cycle of poverty largely not of their making.
The cycle of poverty is a structural problem. It is part of the fabric of our society. However, the insecurity that comes with poverty does not need to exist. If we set our collective minds to it, every family in Hawaii could have a safe and stable home. Each household could have enough food to eat. And medical and mental health services could be readily available for all.
It is definitely possible. It will take the hard work of social transformation. All of our religious traditions tell us that such a change is possible and necessary. It is up to us. And humans are tremendously industrious and creative. The only question is: Do we have the heart, the will, and passion to create a society in which children do not experience hunger, homelessness, and the insecurity of poverty?
Paul Normann, Executive DirectorPhoto by Cheryl VanStane, titled: “A workin’ man’s hands”