OHA: Punawai Program – Offering a Helping Hand to Struggling Families (updated 9/23/2015)

[UPDATE 9/23/2015: The Punawai Program is an active, OHA-funded program administered on O’ahu by Helping Hands Hawai’i.  Due to the volume of calls the program receives and that there is no dedicated staff person to answer the calls (staff who conduct call-backs for phone screens are the same staff who conduct in-person intakes), the program phone line is not answered live.  Participants must leave a message and will receive a call back within 72 hours. ]

Native Hawaiian families that have been pushed to their financial edge have a new place to turn for help paying their bills.

The Pūnāwai Program will help eligible families pay rent, car notes, water bills and other expenses as part of a broader effort over the next two years to ensure their financial survival.

OHA beneficiary Joelle Aoki speaks at community meeting on Lāna‘i about an ongoing need to help some Hawaiian families on the Neighbor Islands prosper and thrive.

OHA beneficiary Joelle Aoki speaks at community meeting on Lāna‘i about an ongoing need to help some Hawaiian families on the Neighbor Islands prosper and thrive.

The community-based group won a two-year $1.2 million contract from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to provide emergency financial assistance to Native Hawaiian-families that are struggling to pay bills on time and keep debts at a manageable level.

Last year, $1,147 was the average amount of financial aid received by the 200-plus Hawaiian families that sought help for similar services under the OHA contract that expired July 31.

OHA has awarded the new contract to the Pūnāwai Program, which is a collaboration among three non-profit organizations: Helping Hands Hawaii; Catholic Charities of Hawaii; and Hawaiian Community Assets.

Among the specific services provided by the group will be help paying security deposits on rent, covering funeral expenses, and keeping up with electricity bills. Other services include financial assistance with asset-building strategies, such as Individual Development Accounts, which are special savings accounts designed to help low-income people invest in their future.

“We look forward to this collaboration exceeding our most optimistic expectations,” said OHA Chief Executive Officer (Ka Pouhana) Kamanaʻopono Crabbe. “Our investment is ultimately in helping Native Hawaiian families become more financially viable.”

For more information, call:
•    (808) 440-3804 – O’ahu (also, Helping Hands Hawaii, at 536-7234)
•    (808) 961-7051- Hawai’i Island
•    (808) 632-6950 – Kaua’i
•    (808) 872-6251- Maui ( as well as Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi)


21 Responses

  1. Aloha I’ve been trying my hardest to get in contact with someone for rental assistance, earlier someone finally return my call although unfortunately I missed the call due to being at a doctor appt, I tried returning call as instructed no one answer or called back , please if someone is available please call again 8087802141


  2. Wondering what steps are needed to take?


  3. Hello ive been calling to try and see what is needed to get help for some rental assistance please contact me 953-8655 Thank you very much


  4. Aloha Sheryl, Cherelle, and Sherwood. If you can’t get through via the numbers listed, try Helping Hands Hawaii, at 536-7234. They are one of the Punawai Program partners.


  5. Aloha, I as well as my sister have left messages for the past 3 days and still no response. I called Helping Hands and they transferred me to the same voicemail. Pls let me know how to get information!


  6. Aloha,
    Been playing phone tags with Helping Hands Hawaii, so finally called the 440-3857 phone number since it’s listed on their page, and was transferred to the rude person who owns that extension, and stated sarcastically that they normally return calls on a daily basis, I had proof but was unable to forward my “saved voicemails” that I had on my phone to let him know how many times they called, which was once and in which I called 3 times in the month of September He transferred me again to the voicemail of 440-3804, left another message. Someone called me back quick, but guess what my cell only rang once from a “O” number and hung up. So again playing phone tags! Very unorganized for a pretty big non-profit!


  7. Aloha no, I have been trying to contact your office. It seems that we have been playing phone tag. I have left 4 messages so far. Please i do not want to miss out on this opportunity. My kuleana and mo’opuna are whats most important. My contact number 852-2036. Beverly Derit!! Malama pono


  8. I’ve applied for assistance after losing my job and having to move out and find a new place within a short timeframe. I applied for emergency assistance and was required to provide a plethora of documents to Helping Hands in order to prove need. This required me to pay for printing and make several trips to their office. After taking the required class (which was designed for high school age children), I was told my application would finally be sent to a supervisor for processing and that I would most likely be approved within a weeks time. Over a week passed and my rent was past due so I had to forgo paying other bills to scrape together rent. When I inquired with Helping Hands, they said because I’m current with my rent, I don’t qualify anymore and to receive assistance my landlord will have to fill out forms and fax them (who faxes anymore?) saying that he will refund my rent if they send him my assistance check. So now, after two months of trying to get “emergency assistance” and/or first months rent, I have literally nothing to show for it. Auwe!


  9. I have tried three times to contact someone at Punawai . No one answer each time, left message on voice mail. It’s been a week, still no response. I called Helping Hands, was asked if I was Hawaiian, transferred me to Punawai, voicemail once again. Tried to call Helping Hands, busy. My husband and I appreciate this program exists and this is the first time we have tried to apply for such assistance. We’re in need of rental and utility assistance. Both are two months back.

    We have a Micro- loan with OHA and with my husband being laid off, I don’t think they will extend us additional credit at this time.

    I will try to call again on Tuesday, or we can be reached at 636-7751.


    One more thing, that woman who answered Helping Hands is very rude. I hope one day she does not need a helping hand.


  10. Aloha No Ia Oe

    I myself like everyone on here been trying to get ahold of someone there at your office. Been trying for the past couple months to at least speak to someone and get this help on the roll. I need to know how I can get your help with back rent and back utilities and what other information I may need to get help before we get evicted. My kuleana on this part for not keeping up to par with my bills but very hard with the income I have and gotta split my earnings between bills and food for my household. Please can someone call me back at 375-7872 would really appreciate it thank you!!

    Jody K




  12. I did get a reply from Renee and will follow up with this Maui office. I did meet the requirements and am not needed to attend another. She has been polite and will follow up with my application and process. Maui office threw me for a loop as they are not in communication with Oahu staff and it really upset me, because they have my number but not my status or updates…Auwe to Maui staff!!


    • Mahalo for your follow-up post. Senator Shimabukuro has been briefed about your difficulties, and she’s happy that you were finally able to get the help that you needed. Getting help from Punawai is sometimes a long process that requires patience and persistence. Your experience will hopefully help other applicants.





  13. By reviewing everyone’s comments has reminded me of my situation with the Punawai Program. I thought that this program would benefit the Hawaiian population. There is not enough programs out there to help us. We all have needs, we all have struggles, and we all need the help like they say they will give. With the Punawai Program it states the things that they will help with…ok! But when we apply it’s another thing or we were not qualified, or they don’t grant this or that. Huh? Why say this program will help the Hawaiians, honest, I hate to hear it anymore. Create one that will really help us regardless…can’t OHA or Alu Like see the homelessness, poverty, and the suffering of us Hawaiians. We won’t be going out of our way for nothing if we didn’t need the help. Keep that in mind. By the way, Helping Hands needs more staff on schedule, everyone is right. There phone is always going to voice mail and either they don’t call you at all or you will need to call them again and go through the same process. I don’t think they should continue another grant like this. It’s so frustrating.


  14. Aloha, I have been trying to contact the Kaua’i number but it has been disconnected, i also tried calling catholic charities Hawaii on Kaua’i and was sent to a persons voicemail. I called twice and and left message both times he has not returned my calls please i am facing eviction from the federal low income housing on Kauai and is desparately looking for a place and need help with rent and deposit please in two to three days me and my family will be thrown out by the housing and the Marshall’s. Please help me and my family.


  15. Aloha. My name is James Murakoshi. My phone nber is 702 580-1140. I’ve called once a day this past Monday Nov 23 through Friday Nov 27. My initial call was on Friday Nov 20 2015 for help with our rent. I have not received a call within 72 hours and am desperately seeking help for our ohana is running out of time. Please call aas landlord calls for update on assistance with Punawai. 702 580-1140


  16. that is so sad that so many of us kanaka’s put our faith into people whom used up all our resorces and trash us like opala and when help is really needed no one seem’s to be around to help the needy our fake state government is the problem to this whole delema we are facing today and will get worst for us all makes me sicken to see our people asking for help and OHA,STATE,FEDERAL,are right there but has fallen on deaf ear’s they are the one’s responsible for what is happening to our kanaka’s sadden me i’m just like all of this people waiting for no one to come and help us because everything we had was stolen from the very one’s offering help and has fallen on deaf ear’s


    • Mr. Kanehailua-Freitas Sr., thank you very much for your comment, and apologies for the long delay in responding. Sen. Shimabukuro is sad to hear that you weren’t able to get the help you need from the OHA Punawai program. She has asked me to contact Punawai on your behalf to followup on your case. Please send details about your Punawai experience to Colleen Teramae(young@capitol.hawaii.gov), Sen Shimabukuro’s office manager. She’ll pass this info on to me. Thank you, -Miki McGarvey, Legislative Aide/District Relations.


  17. If there is no one to answer calls why not have the application avail online so we can get the information needed for the program and should help track all incoming applications for quicker access. Mahal for your time


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