(Photo by Holly Quinn)
One of the dark sides of city revitalization is the way it often works against community members who need the most support.
In Wilmington, some people have been hit with geographic bail restrictions — which the ACLU of Delaware has said are unconstitutional, as lawsuits have mounted on behalf of community members who have been arrested for panhandling and “vagrancy” violations.
These orders function to remove homeless people from the field of view of people who live and work downtown, especially if they contribute to high rents and big business. But they don’t offer much in the way of an alternative places where they can go, not just for a night or a couple of weeks, but as a long-term solution.
2019 Millennial Summit keynote speaker Twinkle Borge, who leads Pu’Uhonua o Wai’anae (POW), also known as “The Harbor,” a self-governed village of people living houseless in Hawaii (Borge doesn’t use the word “homeless” — “Hawaii is my home,” she says), believes communities should build relationships with its members who don’t have houses.
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Borge, who, with her son Adam Fuiva, spent the evening before the Summit downtown talking to Wilmington community members both housed and unhoused, says she thinks a project like POW could happen here.
“I talked to a lot of people last night telling me, ‘How [did you do] what you did?'” she said, in an interview with Technical.ly. “I said, ‘Build the relationship.’ The relationship is very important. We stood outside and were approached by many people. They started talking to us, and I said, ‘You know, I live just like you, under the skies.'”
Borge’s ability to connect with people and lead helped make The Harbor possible. Ryan Catalani, former director of donor relations for Family Promise of New Castle County (now doing similar work with the Hawai’i Children’s Action Network) was instrumental in bringing her to the Millennial Summit as a member of its nonprofit track planning committee.
“A lot of her community success is ultimately due to her leadership and her strength keeping everyone together, even when times get tough,” Catalani told Technical.ly. “There have been times when the government here had tried to remove their community, and so being able to stick together through that and being able to advocate for her community … that’s also something very special that she was able to do. That [grassroots action] would be a key component to making it happen in Wilmington.”
The lack of nighttime activity in downtown Wilmington looked like a missed opportunity to Borge.
“I couldn’t believe that I was actually in downtown and it was no one,” she said. “Create events to bring in more relationships to help the people.”
The concept of building relationships with Wilmington’s houseless community via events may seem counter-intuitive. When a public event happens downtown, people tend to think less about including the most vulnerable and more about keeping them away and out of sight from sensitive downtown visitors.
It’s a mindset that Catalani says is very much shared in Hawaii.
“It’s worth noting that there’s a lot of tension around homelessness in Hawaii,” he said. “Oahu actually has some of the strictest anti-homelessness laws in the country, with tourism being a main economic driver here.”
“They only see one type of person,” said Borge. “They don’t see the whole family.”
The Harbor is all about family, not least of all found family, and is built on the idea of kuleana, or responsibility. During her Q&A session at the summit, Borge described how residents are expected to give at least eight hours of community service a month, such as keeping a nearby park clean or maintaining trails. There is outreach to other houseless communities, support for people living with addiction, trauma and mental health issues, and near-constant advocacy.
The focus isn’t on leaving the community and getting houses.
“In Hawaii, you need two or three full time jobs to afford a house,” said Borge, whose first son is attending college in Oregon this fall.
Mahalo to Puuhonua B. Keiki Kanahele Brandon Makaawaawa for hosting village leaders up at Puʻuhonua O Waimanalo this…
That reality — that, for some, having a house or apartment may never be a viable option — is the biggest driver for creating and stabilizing residential villages like The Harbor.
“And if I can help [in Wilmington],” Borge said, “I wouldn’t mind coming back.”-30-
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