How to Discover a Career in Helping the Homeless | Betty Lou Larson


Catholic Charities Homeless Advocate

Ep. 51 – Betty Lou Larson - Working for Catholic Charities as a homeless advocate, even into retirement, she still represents the organization's priorities in homelessness at the State Legislature. She provides an insight into the reasons and magnitude of homelessness. She talks about Housing First as the best, but expensive, program and provides an example of how this worked for a chronically homeless mentally disabled individual. She has worked in transitional housing as a bridge, especially for families and lets us know about the school services for homeless children. She describes how the federal government's lack of funding for developing low-rent housing in the 1980's has affected homelessness. She tells us about Hawaii's Rental Housing Revolving Fund. We discuss how our passion has carried us into retirement by still doing important work. Listen in to learn why homeless families need housing first to stabilize their lives before solving other issues they might have. You will also learn the value of having a purpose for serving the community, that you can continue even after retiring.

Top Takeaways:

  • The importance of providing housing to people first before dealing with other issues they have, because housing stabilizes them
  • Factors that contribute to homelessness like drug abuse and domestic violence
  • The importance of being in a place where you help and serve others in the community

"Don't get discouraged, especially if you are in advocacy. Keep your spirits up, know you're doing important work, and you're trying your best to bring about a change." - Betty Lou Larson

In this episode you'll discover:

Betty narrates her childhood and young adult experiences that led to her background in social work [1:42]

How high cost of living is leading Hawaii residents to homelessness, increasing the need for affordable housing [5:01]

She explains transitional housing, which is providing a safe place for families before they can find an affordable rental [9:34]

Why housing subsidies are important to be able to construct affordable housing in Hawaii [11:09]

The relationship between mental illness and homelessness in Hawaii [13:28]

The varied help homeless families in Hawaii need plus the help their children receive [16:24]

Betty describes her work in social service as a blessing that she continues to do even after retiring [17:29]

How the problem of drug abuse and other issues lead to homelessness [20:19]

Understanding the value of social services and serving people like seniors to have stable homes [21:00]

How to have a purpose that you can continue pursuing even after retiring [27:24]

Betty advises young people to not be discouraged when helping others and performing social work [30:36]


Betty Lou has been a Legislative Liaison to Catholic Charities in Hawaii for many years, educating the State Legislature on issues of housing, homelessness and social services that impact the people of Hawaii. She has worked as a Community Housing Advocate and a Housing Programs Director in Hawaii.


-Master of Social Work (MSW):           University of Hawaii (Manoa), 1980.
-Master of Arts (MA):                           University of Hawaii (Manoa), Asian Studies, 1973.
-East West Center Grantee:                University of Hawaii (Manoa), Asian Studies, 1971-1973.
-Bachelor of Arts (BA):                         University of Hawaii, Asian Studies, 1971.


-Hawaii Public Housing Authority: Board of Directors
-Self-Help Housing Corporation of Hawaii:  Board President
-State Transit Oriented Development Council: represents housing advocates
-Hawaii Housing Finance & Development Corporation (HHFDC): 2006 to June 30, 2014; Board Member/Secretary
-Housing & Community Development Corporation of Hawaii (HCDCH: oversaw the current agencies, HHFDC and HPHA): Board Member
-Rental Housing Trust Fund Advisory Commission:  Commissioner
-Hawaii Housing Development Corporation (non-profit housing corporation):  Board Member/Design and House Rules Committee
-Catholic Charities Housing Development Corporation:  Board member/Secretary
-Partners in Care (Oahu homeless coalition): Member; Advocacy Committee; past PIC Exec Team
-Hawaii Catholic Conference:  member
-Catholic Charities Public Policy Committee
-Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance:  Board Member/President
-City & County of Honolulu:  Selection Committee for CDBG (federal) grants
-Hawaii Pacific Gerontological Society:  Past President; Conference Committees
-Aloha United Way Impact Councils member, 2016 - present


-NASW Social Worker of the Year Award for Social Justice and Advocacy
-YWCA Hawaii Women Leader Award


Continuum of Care

Catholic Charities: Betty Lou Larson

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Legislative Liaison Video


Diane Chapman-Jackson

Rosemarie Harris

Rita Venable 


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