Family co-ops for homeless families

I don’t think we can ever solve the “problem” of the homeless. There are always people who choose this lifestyle or who refuse or are unable to abide by shelter regulations. And because we are an island with limited land and resources, Hawaii will always be an expensive place to live.

But the majority of the homeless don’t want to be homeless and do everything they can to improve their situation.

To help homeless families, we could create Kuleana Family Living Co-ops. Short for “cooperative”, a co-op is operated by its members for their mutual benefit, like a credit union.

A co-op could work something like this:

  1. The City could work with non-profit organizations to purchase vacant land or re-zone small parcels of agricultural/conservation land for camping, ideally near an existing bus line. The funding would come from existing programs and non-profits for the homeless; no new appropriations!
  2. Homeless families would live in their tents; possibly, the City or a non-profit could provide trailers.
  3. A restroom facility with showers would be built and overhead lighting installed.
  4. Each family would be responsible for grounds maintenance and agree to a code of behavior.
  5. Each family would pay a small weekly fee to help cover utilities.
  6. Each family would help to grow their own fruits and vegetables in a community garden.
  7. Each family would vote for three individuals who would be their representatives to the DLNR, HUD, IHS, or other agency (just don’t create a brand new agency!). The Co-op representatives would present a weekly report, settle any disputes, and ensure that each family keeps the grounds clean, secure, and drug-free.
  8. Each able adult would be required to have a job or look for a job to remain in the Co-Op.

A Family Living Co-op has several benefits:

  • Families would have responsibility for maintaining their living conditions. In shelters, everything is provided for them, from a janitor cleaning the restrooms to volunteers preparing and serving their meals.
  • Families would have healthy food to eat. How much of food stamps is spent on junk food?
  • Children would have a safer environment until their families can move into permanent housing.
  • Children would learn about agriculture and sustainability.
  • Families could keep their pets with them.

Are there any charities or non-profits who think something like this could work? If you have experience with homeless shelters or farming co-ops, could you give us a reality-check?

And if you think it’s a terrible idea, what do you think could work?

I sent this suggestion to the Honolulu City Council in December 2009. So far, Councilmember Ann Kobayashi is the only one who responded.  She seemed interested and asked for more details, but this is all I have. What more can we propose?

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