Struggling family gets break on housing
When Lehua's family lived out of their van, they would park near a store then find an electrical outlet to plug in their rice cooker for 20 minutes.
They found ways to survive with a baby and a 12-year-old daughter with diabetes, living out of a tent in someone's backyard and on the beach, and making do with cold showers and public restrooms.
The strain of taking care of her children worsened during her husband's incarceration for five months this year. When he was released and had no job, they had to ask for public aid.
The Community Clearinghouse, sponsored by Helping Hands Hawaii, tries to ease the burden for people, like Lehua's family, in tough positions with its Adopt-A-Family program every Christmas. The Star-Bulletin's Good Neighbor Fund does its part by collecting money and publicizing the need for material and cash donations.
Lehua (a pseudonym) said she was so relieved when a Waianae outreach program listened to her story and understood the need for the family to have a refrigerator for their daughter's insulin, which must be injected three times a day.
Lehua, 37, said she is appalled at being classified as a stereotypical homeless person hooked on drugs and living in doorways. "I've never been in trouble or do drugs ... I'm just poor," she said.
The family got into an emergency shelter, but after her daughter (who functions at the second-grade level) reported being depressed about the lack of privacy and shabby amenities, they were moved to a transitional housing shelter.
Lehua said she had to stop working because she had to be on call for her daughter, who was often sick. Her daughter was out of school for three months until they dealt with the red-tape of getting a qualified person to administer her injections.
In the depth of her despair, Lehua often credits "my pride" for keeping her going.
"I'm an able-bodied person, I can work ... and I would do anything for my kids," she said.
Her husband is also very proud, she said. "He wouldn't ask his family for help. But for us he's come a long way; he's a lot more humble."
A few days before Thanksgiving, the family's luck changed. They found a home in Waipahu that was available, although in need of major renovations. She contacted the owner, and offered to remodel the home in exchange for rent until their family got back on its feet and could start paying. The owner and his wife agreed, and said they would furnish all the materials.
It was an early Christmas present, she said, grateful that "the owners are willing to work with us. The nicest thing is having our privacy back.
"If we didn't find this couple who were willing to hear our story, willing to let us work, I don't think we would be able to get in any rental. This month we worked off the rent," she said with pride, since her husband has found other small construction jobs.
"The owners asked us what we wanted for Christmas, and I said: 'You've given us our blessing,'" Lehua said.
The family could use a computer to help their daughter do interactive work on communication skills, or books and puzzles. They also need clothes and toys for their 11-month-old baby.
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