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by Samantha Black, staff writer

 

Troubled teens may initially find the streets to be exciting, free from bad circumstances or stringent rules at home. They soon learn that the streets have their own rules.
Teen homelessness is an ongoing battle for Alika Campbell and the volunteers who help out at the Waikiki Youth Outreach Program and strive to make a difference in the lives of hundreds of homeless teenagers who can be found sleeping in the parks, on the beach, or roaming the alleys in search of shelter, food, and money.
The program, YO! for short, is operated by the Waikiki Health Center and Hale Kipa, Inc., an umbrella organization dedicated helping the homeless. YO! provides medical, health, and social services to runaway and homeless youth 21 and under. Specifically, they help young homeless people to find jobs or training, and places to live and develop their independent living skills.
YO!’s center in Waikiki for teenage homeless is a tiny three-bedroom cottage on Keoniana Street leased from the Waikiki Baptist Church. It’s a safe place where homeless teens can eat a hot meal three nights a week, take a shower, do their laundry, store their belongings, get medical care, and hang out during the drop-in hours of 3 to 6 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays.
No one can, however, stay overnight, so effectively, without permanent solutions, the kids are back on the street every night.
Campbell started working for Hale Kipa in 1993, and became director of YO! in 1997. In the beginning, he thought it would be a sad and depressing job, but now he feels he has made a difference, “even if it’s a little one,” he said.
YO!’s other main component is its street outreach program. Six nights a week, YO! volunteers pack a backpack with basic supplies—snacks, hygiene items, condoms, toothbrushes—and information referral cards.
Campbell said, referring to teens: “If we see you out there, we’ll hit you up: Here’s our card, here’s what we’re about. If you need services, come on in.”
YO! has been around since 1989 and receives a lot of “word-of-mouth advertising,” according to Campbell. Yo! is an established part of the street scene in Waikiki, and the shelter gets a high number of street referrals. Nearly 95 percent of homeless youth in Waikiki are runaways who are cut off from their families because of abuse, neglect, or drugs. Some of them are also recent graduates from foster care. In either case, most homeless youth on O‘ahu head to Waikiki because of all the people, excitement, and bright lights.
Captain Jeff Richards, who is in charge of the Honolulu Police Department’s Waikiki substation, agrees with Campbell.
“ Waikiki is a happening place. There is always some type of event,” Richards said. “Other places on the island, there isn’t much going on at 4 a.m. Waikiki lets [teens] hide in plain sight, be part of the crowd,” he added.
According to Cambell, the basic goal of YO! is to keep the teens alive and healthy today so that maybe they will make some better choices tomorrow. Staff talks to the homeless youth about better choices, but they don’t push an agenda, as do many other organizations that require teens to adhere to certain rules, or follow programs in order to qualify for help.
Every year, YO! assists more than 400 young people and provides over 4,000 meals.
Most of the food is donated. The Food Bank provides much of the food, along with churches and schools who organize food drives. An anonymous millionaire donor supports the meal program by buying the shelter pizza twice a month. Aloha Harvest also helps out by collecting food from restaurants and hotels.
YO! makes the best of what it receives. In one instance, 2,000 hot dogs were donated, and YO! served them in as many interesting ways as it could for the kids.
Normal health care is provided at YO! by a physician from the Waikiki Health Center. Supported by student nurses, YO! treats everything from minor cuts, scrapes, infections, and stitches. It also provides birth control and tests for and treats sexually transmitted diseases. For anything major, teens are sent to the hospital.
“ We see a lot of cuts and wounds,” said Campbell. “The most common thing is respiratory illness in the winter, especially colds and the flu.”
YO!, on average, has around 30 teens stopping in every day. Around holiday celebrations, the numbers tend to be higher.
The economy may also have affected to the increasing numbers of teens needing help. “In the last couple of months,” Cambell said, “there definitely has been an increase in numbers. As many as 50-60 kids have been showing up daily.
“ On the street,” he continued, “it’s all about resources. At first, some kids have money or possessions like iPods or video games, so they are popular. Once their resources run out, they need skills or abilities to get some money or else they have to work their way in to be accepted,” said Campbell. “Most kids band together for protection, because on their own they can become a target for pedophiles, pimps, and drug dealers.
“ Here at the YO!, there is a sense of community. Everyone here takes care of one another, and we’re all like brothers and sisters. It’s the closest thing they have to a home,” Campbell added.
It’s almost impossible to guess how many homeless teens there really are in Waikiki. The police don’t keep statistics, according to Richards. “We see them, but it’s hard to keep track. It’s a fluid population. They could be out on the street one day, then they could be staying with friends. What they are doing isn’t criminal. We will talk with them, check up on them, but out on the street they can get themselves in trouble, and that’s when we see them,” said Richards.
Many of these teens are entirely disconnected from their families, said Campbell. They are making ends meet solely by themselves. Their average age is from 17 to 19, he continued, but YO! has gotten them as young as 8 to 13 years. Campbell added that though they have the physical characteristics of children their actual age, their mental age is much older because they’ve been hanging around with 21 to 27 year olds on the street.
“ Nearly 99.5 percent of homeless youth are on some form of drug, most commonly alcohol or marijuana,” said Campbell. He added that drug use at the center is forbidden along with fighting, but YO! doesn’t like to turn anyone away, even if they show up under the influence.
“ So long as you’re no trouble, and can handle your actions, you’re welcome to eat and sleep it off,” said Campbell. If it’s a persistent problem, YO! refers them to other organizations for treatment.
“ Thankfully, YO! has seen a decline in the number of ice users (crystal methamphetamine) in the past four years, but it is not necessarily because they don’t want it, it is more of a supply-and-demand issue. Ice is not as readily available,” he said.
YO! has had limited success in finding and training volunteers. There have been student volunteers from HPU and the University of Hawai‘i, most of them nursing students who assist the Health Center physician. However, YO! wants people who are willing to make a long-term commitment, to develop a relationship with the kids, and help steer them in the right direction.
“ We can’t have people here with the kids getting attached, if we don’t know they are going to be around for awhile… we need [volunteers] to be serious,” Campbell said. He added,
“ We are the most consistent adult presence in their lives. For a lot of them, we are the only adults who have never exploited them.”
For more information, or to volunteer, call Campbell at 942-5858 or e-mail acampbell@halekipa.org.

 

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