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Hawai‘i Nonprofits Join Forces to Tackle ALICE

A new cohort of organizations funded by the Hawai‘i Community Foundation and Aloha United Way are looking for ways to improve systemic economic inequities in the Islands.

RYSE HawaiʻiALICE Initiative cohort member RYSE Hawaiʻi help youth get off the streets and move past homelessness.
Courtesy RYSE Hawaiʻi

When a senior citizen in her 80s named Siletha came recently to the Waikīkī Community Center (WCC), she was desperate. Siletha’s monthly Social Security income was far below what she needed to get by. She worked as a caregiver to make ends meet, but it was barely enough to live on. Then her landlord raised her rent. She was suddenly facing homelessness.

To WCC president Caroline Hayashi, it’s a familiar story.

“We see a lot of seniors who are above poverty, who are still working, yet they struggle to make ends meet,” she says.

Siletha is part of Hawaiʻi’s growing ALICE population—the acronym stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. This group of individuals who are working but still struggling grew from 42 percent of Hawaiʻi’s population before the pandemic to 59 percent by the end of 2020.

The problem is the focus of the ALICE Initiative, a new funding partnership between the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation (HCF) and Aloha United Way.

“The fact that we have so many households living paycheck to paycheck on a survival budget increases the risk of the middle class continuing to leave Hawaiʻi, and that has a direct impact on the economy.”

– Michelle Kauhane, Hawaiʻi Community Foundation

The initiative’s 2022-24 cohort was announced in April, and includes 17 Hawaiʻi nonprofit organizations that will receive a combined $4.5 million over the next three years. Funds will be used for programs addressing key issues facing ALICE households, including financial instability and lack of access to affordable housing.

“These are our neighbors, our aunties and uncles, our friends,” says Michelle Kauhane, HCF chief impact officer. “At the same time, the fact that we have so many households living paycheck to paycheck on a survival budget increases the risk of the middle class continuing to leave Hawaiʻi, and that has a direct impact on the economy.”

As one of the 17 organizations in the 2022-24 ALICE Initiative cohort, Waikīkī Community Center will use its funding to help clients build emergency funds through a matched savings program and offer financial education. WCC also provides case management and helps clients find and qualify for other programs and resources.

Other organizations receiving ALICE Initiative funds in the 2022 cohort include Hawaiian Community Assets, for a program providing financial counseling, income supports, and career coaching; Feed the Hunger Fund, for a program providing affordable loans and business development coaching to low-income entrepreneurs; and the Legal Aid Society of Hawaiʻi, for a program providing legal information and services to address barriers to economic mobility for ALICE households.

In addition to providing funds, the initiative brings cohort members together to work as a collective, sharing insights and resources to magnify their efforts, notes Kauhane. “ALICE is too complex of an issue for any one organization to address alone,” she says.

John Fink, CEO of Aloha United Way, agrees. “Through this collective approach, we can address complex social problems and systemic barriers that no single entity or sector is able to address on its own. This is not a grantor/grantee model, but rather an innovation that requires long-term partnerships that build trust, collaboration, shared resources, and metrics.”

Collective effort is how WCC was eventually able to help Siletha. After temporarily matching her with a roommate, WCC helped her apply for affordable housing waitlists and lotteries, and eventually she qualified for a unit in a new building. They then helped her qualify for grants from other agencies to cover her security deposit and moving costs, helped her find higher paying employment, and organized church volunteers to help her move.

“It’s a cliché to say that we all have to work together, but it’s true,” WCC’s Hayashi says. “Even the biggest agencies can’t provide all the solutions in-house to help each person. The ALICE Initiative really gives us an opportunity to broaden that universe of agencies we work with.”

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