As pandemic drags on, Aloha United Way’s 211 helpline connects families in need with aid

Sep. 10, 2021

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - More and more Hawaii families are struggling to meet their basic needs, according to Aloha United Way.

About half of Hawaii residents were considered to be in the so-called ALICE demographic or below before the pandemic, AUW said. That percentage has grown to 59%.

ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed and represents a category of people who barely make enough to get by but are above the poverty level.

AUW said it is often very difficult for that demographic to qualify for help.

“More folks are shifting to different areas of need and of pay and are finding themselves in that spot where they don’t necessarily qualify for certain assistance,” said Lisa Kimura, the vice president of community impact at AUW. “But they also don’t make enough money to be completely secure.”

Kimura said that with more people struggling to meet their basic needs, AUW’s 211 helpline has seen a huge influx in calls. Since the pandemic began, AUW has seen a 400% increase in calls for help.

“People were taken by surprise,” said Kingslay Zelee, the 211 program manager. “We’ll refer them to a lot of different services.”

Zelee and his team get calls about shelters, housing assistance, help with food, vaccine questions, and more. About 40% of calls are from those needing immediate help finding a place to live or assistance staying housed.

Donna Smith called 211 and other crisis lines after becoming homeless. She came to Hawaii to live with her family. Chicago was too expensive living on her own.

She said after that didn’t work out, she ended up with a massive amount of debt living in hotels.

Eventually, she found herself at Cedar Assembly of God’s Dream Center. Hawaiian Community Assets helped her with finances, and she found a job helping folks who are disabled.

Smith expects to get an apartment in a few months.

“All of the shelters were full,” she said. “I’ve been richly blessed.”

Donna said she feels she has found a string of fortune, in a time where many are down on their luck.

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