Officials say about five dozen of the nearly 300 people camped out on Kakaako’s streets are originally citizens of island nations that have a Compact of Free Association (COFA) with the U.S., including Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau.
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono says she and fellow lawmakers from Hawaii are pushing for federal aid to help them.
“Our delegation has worked really hard to enable them to be at least Medicaid eligible so that the state of Hawaii can get some $40 million reimbursements,” she said.
Federal funds that Hirono helped secure went toward Hālau Ola One-Stop Center, which opened last month and is operated by We Are Oceania, an organization designed to advocate for and empower Native Pacific Islanders from the Micronesian region in Hawaii.
Hālau Ola is the organization’s first pilot project, and serves as a central hub linking various Micronesian communities, families and individuals with public services and other resources. The center also connects the Micronesian community with federal, state and county representatives and agencies to further advocacy and self-empowerment.
“What do you think the challenges are to assimilation?” KHON2 asked.
“Language issues, culture issues. This is why we need an entity like We Are Oceania and the one-stop center where they’ll be able to talk with people from their areas, Palau, Micronesia, Marshall Islands,” the senator said.
Hirono says she can relate.
“I was an immigrant myself. You come to a whole different country and you don’t know what’s going on,” she said.
Ultimately, she says, it’s about working with government across all levels and private agencies to help Hawaii’s homeless get the help they need.