A woman came to our office on a recent Friday afternoon. She had one of her sons with her and was on the verge of tears from the emotional strain of living in a car with her children. She had a voucher for subsidized housing and had found an apartment, but the apartment failed the housing inspection. These inspections exist to ensure that subsidized rentals are maintained in good repair, but they can sometimes feel frustratingly bureaucratic. Rentals can fail an inspection for quite minor infractions. This was the woman’s case. No major repairs were needed, but there was enough to keep her and her children out of the apartment. All of the shelters were filled to overflowing because of the lava and Hurricane Iselle. With her money tied up in the rental, this poor woman could not afford to rent even a cheap hotel room. She had nowhere else to live, other than on the street in her car. It was an unimaginably stressful situation for a mother.
Fortunately, we were able to help this woman and her two children, to find them a safe, but temporary, place to stay where they could rest and bathe and recover.
Once the family was settled, we checked with the Office of Housing to confirm the date for the rescheduled inspection and discovered the extent of the repairs necessary to pass. We made the repairs with the family. Often in these situations, the repairs are minor, little stuff like cleaning out the gutters, or replacing the covers over bulbs, or putting grease pans in the stovetop. It may not sound like much, but if you own a home, you know that these little projects can consume a huge amount of time and energy.
Technically this is the landlord’s responsibility, but the landlord may not feel it is a priority, and may not make the repairs promptly. Neighborhood Place of Puna, however, knows that the family needs a place to live. We know that this poor woman’s life is not going to be improved by being homeless. We also know that the children are not going to be better for having spent another night on the street. This is the heart of Neighborhood Place of Puna: we care what happens to the families that ask us for help. We take a personal interest in their happiness and success.
The work of helping families is never-ending. There is always someone who needs help, who is in the middle of a crisis. We, as individuals and organizations, need to avoid the temptation to generalize and objectify a family’s distress. We need to continue to recognize each crisis as personal and each family as unique. We must strive to respond with sympathy and compassion for everyone who asks for help.
It might be said, in today’s non-profit parlance, that Neighborhood Place of Puna provides a high level of “customer service.” Perhaps that is true. But these are people: parents, grandparents, and children. They are moms and dads trying to raise their children in difficult situations. They are not customers. We are not selling them anything. They are just people coming to us and asking for help.
Neighborhood Place of Puna offers what help we can. Most importantly, we try to respect each individual as a unique and valuable human being no matter how distressing their situation, their appearance, or their conduct.
Paul Normann, Executive Director
Image: Hammer by PPDigital