Family leaves homelessness behind
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
The Kaluhiwa family will be spending the holidays in a cramped studio apartment in Punalu'u.
The situation is far from ideal, but it beats last Thanksgiving, when part of the family of five slept in a truck and the rest under a drippy blue tarp at Kualoa Beach Park.
Somehow, the family has managed to cram four beds into the fifth-floor studio, as well as a TV and a monitor with a Sony Playstation 2, and still leave enough space for the kids to sit on the floor.
The studio costs $1,000 a month. The next step for the family is to find a two- or three-bedroom unit to rent for about the same amount. But their goals don't end there.
"We're aiming for home ownership," said Athena Kaluhiwa, 36, a care home provider. "This is just a stepping stone."
She thinks it will take at least a year to build up their credit to qualify for a mortgage. But Athena and husband David, 45, have seen how far they've been able to come in a year, with some help.
"We're really grateful," David Kaluhiwa said. "And we want to be a role model for other homeless families."
The Kaluhiwas — the subject of an Advertiser story in April — are among the first families to successfully complete the program established by Family Promise of Hawai'i, a local affiliate of a national nonprofit organization that aims to get homeless families with children into permanent housing situations.
Thirteen member organizations — for now all faith-based congregations of different denominations — take weeklong turns four times a year providing food and shelter for the families. Family Promise offers advice on job, educational and housing opportunities. Families stay until they find permanent housing, so long as they show progress, or at least meaningful effort.
The Kaluhiwas showed a desire to improve their situation, among the criteria for the program, said Kent Anderson, Family Promise's Hawai'i director. .
"They had that willingness, even when times were difficult, to persevere," Anderson said. "They worked hard when they were with us," he said. "By no means did it go perfectly, but then it never does for anyone. But they stuck to it and they saw through it and they're reaping the benefits of their labor."
Since April, the Family Promise network has grown from 26 churches and temples to 36 partners, including Kawaiaha'o and Central Union churches "and there are several that are going to join us very shortly," Anderson said.
With a family center now based in Kailua, the goal is to open a second network by March that would operate around urban Honolulu. Eventually, Family Promise would also like to start up a network in West O'ahu.
Including the Kaluhiwas, 13 of the 15 families that entered the program have been helped since it began this year. Another three families have joined the program.
State and city officials praise Family Promise for what it's been able to accomplish. "It's a solid program, it works well for what they do," said director of city Department of Community Services Debbie Kim Morikawa. "For programs that have a service components, classes, if there's a structure, the success rate is usually pretty good."
Morikawa and state homeless programs coordinator Sandra Miyoshi said other approaches are needed as well, such as affordable rentals, housing placement, substance abuse treatment and grants to pull people out of crippling debt.
"There needs to be a multiple approach," Miyoshi said.
The Kaluhiwas joined the Family Promise program in March and stayed until mid-June.
One constant during that time has been the ability of both parents to stay employed. Athena Kaluhiwa, who once worked at Castle Medical Center, is now a caregiver for an individual in Kailua. David Kaluhiwa has been in construction work.
Ron Agrigado, David Kaluhiwa's boss, said he had no qualms about hiring Kaluhiwa because he came recommended by David's brother, Roland, who was already working for Agrigado.
Agrigado said he has no regrets. "He's good with his hands," he said. "He works hard, and he's got a very good outlook on life. And his attitude is great."
David Kaluhiwa spent 17 years as a city truck driver. A work-related disability kept him out for two years. That led to a series of events that led to his being laid off. Soon after, the family lost their home in Kane'ohe and ended up on the beach.
With both parents back in steady jobs, the family no longer qualifies for welfare assistance or food stamps. QUEST still helps the family with healthcare.
"We have savings, but not that much," Athena Kaluhiwa said. "I would guess our Christmas is going to be pretty ... limited."
Still, the family is thankful for its blessings and wants to encourage those still homeless to not give up on themselves.
"Think of the keiki, stay focused," said David Kaluhiwa.
"Just keep on working and keep on taking the kids to school," Athena Kaluhiwa said. "And keep the faith. It's going to be all right."
Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at email@example.com.
Correction: Debbie Kim Morikawa is director of the city Department of Community Services. A previous version of this story gave an incorrect title.