RESIDENTS OF COLLAPSED HOUSE FELT PRESSURED TO ACCEPT 'TREATMENT'
Tenants claim landlord gave them injections
By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer
By Mary Vorsino
Police are investigating allegations that the property manager of a Kalihi home that partially collapsed Sunday, leaving at least 50 people homeless, injected some of his tenants with a substance that he told them would cure ailments and prolong life.
The allegation is the latest bizarre twist in the investigation of the residence at 1732 Gulick Ave., where dozens of people — including several families with children — lived in deplorable conditions and, they say, under constant threat of eviction or paying more rent.
Tenants, who paid from $250 to $750 a month, shared two bathrooms and one stove. Most lived in makeshift structures built with little more than poles, plywood and tarpaulins.
Police took statements yesterday from at least six of the residents, who alleged that on-site property manager Daniel Cunningham, who ran for mayor in the primary election, gave them injections or asked them to take injections of a substance he said was medically sound.
Tenant Jesse Taylor, 42, said they took the injections because they feared they would be evicted or have their rent raised if they didn't.
"I was desperate," said Taylor, who lived at the home on Gulick Avenue for four years and said he took dozens of injections for his knees, ankles and shoulder. "I didn't want to get kicked out."
Michelle Yu, spokeswoman for the Honolulu Police Department, said police "are looking into" the allegations against Cunningham, who lost his license as a chiropractor in 1996 after performing untested treatments on patients and injecting them with his own concoctions.
Cunningham, 56, said yesterday the injections he used on some of his tenants were part of a "stem cell" therapy. Reached by phone, he said he is also on the treatment and it has helped him stay healthy and fit.
"This treatment, I'm undergoing it myself," he said.
Cunningham got 737 votes in the Sept. 20 primary, which placed him sixth out of the nine candidates vying for mayor.
In a candidate questionnaire form he filled out for The Advertiser before the election, Cunningham was asked, "Do you support the city's rail transit plan?" and he answered, "The present will sell our children into slavery."
In the same questionnaire, Cunningham said his "doctors' license was revoked for 'in vivo' stem cell therapy also known as prolotherapy."
Yesterday Cunningham said he only used the injections on people if they asked and if they were under a doctor's supervision. Tenants, who say at least 10 people at the home had taken the injections, dispute Cunningham's account. They say Cunningham asked tenants if they wanted the injections, then got unruly and made threats if they refused.
Richard Sumiye, 68, said he went blind for about a week after Cunningham injected the substance into his eyes, supposedly to give him perfect vision. That was about a year ago. Today, Sumiye says his vision has never been the same and is so poor he can't drive.
"I trusted the guy," Sumiye said.
Yu said it's not clear what charges police might pursue against Cunningham based on the allegations.
And though the long-term effects of the injections are unclear, some tenants said they had been feeling side effects.
Taylor, who got injections in his knees, ankles and shoulders, said he had blurry vision, bouts of troubled breathing and severe swelling at the injection site.
Advocates for the poor say the case highlights the dire lack of affordable housing, and the lengths to which people will go to to keep a roof over their heads.
"When people are afraid of losing their home, they'll go to extreme measures," said Doran Porter, executive director of the Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance.
"This is an instance of that."
One of the many illegal structures at the home collapsed Sunday night, spurring firefighters to evacuate the home and the American Red Cross to open a shelter to house displaced tenants. About 29 people stayed at the shelter at Kalihi Valley District Park on Monday.
It's unclear how long the shelter will remain open.
Meanwhile, firefighters and rescue crews were called back to the Gulick Avenue house yesterday after getting a call that someone who lived there hasn't been seen and may still be inside. The house was searched with dogs throughout the day, but found no one.
No one was injured in the initial collapse.
Honolulu Fire Chief Kenneth Silva surveyed the site yesterday and said the house is unstable and not fit for human habitation. No one was being allowed in yesterday while firefighters were still searching the home, though tenants went in Monday to retrieve belongings.
Silva said the house has long been a concern for the fire department, which started getting reports of unsafe illegal structures being built onto the home three years ago.
"It's been frustrating" to see the home getting worse and worse, he said, calling it a "hodgepodge" of materials.
That frustration is shared by nearby residents and the tenants of the home, who questioned where all the rent from the residence, which one tenant estimated was likely as much as $10,000 a month, was going.
Peni Gasio, 55, lives near the home and said he complained to anyone who would listen about the state of the residence. Now, he said, the "big question" is who is going to clean up the mess left behind.
For now, that question is still unanswered.
Henry Eng, director of the city Department of Planning and Permitting, has said that the city is taking steps to foreclose on the property after its owners were unwilling or unable to pay more than $53,000 in fines issued to them for the illegal structures.
In an e-mail to reporters yesterday, Eng said once the house is in foreclosure, police will be able to "restrict access to the property and allow HPD to arrest any trespassers, including the owners." He added that "although cleanup is generally a private matter, the city is meeting with its attorneys to evaluate what options are available to the city to ensure that the cleanup is done expeditiously to ensure public health and safety."
Meanwhile, Cunningham said he is going to "try to save the house."
Honolulu property records listed the home's owners as George Jenkins, Loida Santos and Grace Santos. But Jenkins said yesterday he no longer owns any stake in the home, but that Cunningham and the Santoses do. Jenkins declined further comment.
Loida and Grace Santos could not be reached for comment.
Reach Mary Vorsino at firstname.lastname@example.org.