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Officer who gave up his job to help homeless struggles to keep nonprofit afloat

Officer who gave up his job to help homeless struggles to keep nonprofit afloat

WAHIAWA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) – A year ago, Joe Acosta launched one of the state’s only homeless outreach programs in central Oahu, giving up a 16-year career as a police officer to serve those living on the streets.

His decision gained him wide praise and support.

But it didn’t guarantee funding for the program he founded, ALEA Bridge, an all-volunteer and donation effort that could soon be forced to drastically cut its services if it doesn’t get help from the state.

Acosta is seeking a $1.8 million grant-in-aid from the state Legislature, and the annual scramble for grant funds means it’s not clear whether he’ll actually get the funding.

If he doesn’t, he said, he’ll likely be forced to cut his staff from five to one.

“I’m working with the same people I was dealing with when I was policeman. Back then  I was limited to what I could do.  Now the sky’s the limit,” Acosta said.

The number of homeless people living in Central Oahu and on the North Shore has quadruped over the past four years. Preliminary data from the 2017 “point-in-time” count found 383 unsheltered homeless individuals in those areas, compared to just 99 back in 2013.

For the past year, ALEA Bridge has helped dozens of homeless in Central Oahu get IDs and birth certificates. The nonprofit has also helped connect clients with substance abuse treatment, shelters and permanent housing.

“We’ve survived on a few small donations but it’s largely been out-of-pocket costs that we have had to incur,” said Phil Acosta, Joe’s brother and executive director of ALEA Bridge. “We see that as an investment into the community and into our organization.”

Now that the organization has shown it’s making a difference in the community, the Acosta brothers are cautiously optimistic that they’ll be able to secure grant-in-aid funding. A decision on whether they get funding will be made in April.

“It would be sad if we weren’t able to continue providing services the services that we do,” Joe Acosta said.

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