Homeless family finds language, new culture additional barricade


POSTED: Sunday, November 29, 2009

Silvia Jack brought her children to Hawaii from Micronesia because she wanted them to receive better schooling that could open doors of opportunity.

But the price of education was losing a place to call home.

She came from a small community on the island of Weno in the Chuuk state, where it was common for people to live with their relatives, she said.

“;It had no more homeless people. I come here, I see plenty people homeless,”; she said.

And now Jack and her family are homeless, part of an influx of Micronesian immigrants whom social service case workers have seen at shelters throughout Hawaii in the past several years.

Jack, her boyfriend and four children, ages 1 through 6, have been living at the Onemalu Transitional Shelter in Kalaeloa since June.

; The public can help struggling families this holiday season by donating to the Star-Bulletin's annual Good Neighbor Fund, which supports the Adopt-A-Family Christmas program and the year-round Community Clearinghouse. Both are run by Helping Hands Hawaii.

Jack said, “;I wish you to pray (for) us to find a home and some things my kids want”; for Christmas, which include clothes and especially shoes.

Jack's family spent several months in Waipahu emergency shelters that allowed them only to sleep there at night. During the day, she sat with her two youngest children on the beach while the others attended school and her boyfriend looked for work, she said. He has a job now and Jack is anxious to find one herself. And she wants to improve her English, which she speaks hesitantly.

“;I want English class. I want to learn. I want my house to stay in; my kids to stay in school. I don't want to go back (to Weno). They have school, but schools not good. I want to stay here,”; Jack said.

Her case manager, Polialoha Martin, said: “;They've made huge progress for a family in a situation like this. They're very motivated, very compliant and cooperative. Silvia is ready to take herself to the next level. She's thinking she can work at night when her boyfriend comes home from work to watch the kids.”;

Martin said the language barrier is one of the main stumbling blocks for immigrants to overcome in adjusting to a new culture and finding work. In Jack's case, her English is functional, but she needs the self-confidence to show a prospective employer she can perform on the job. The shelter does not offer English classes on site and Jack can't afford to take a community college class, Martin said.

Case managers often find it challenging to communicate about shelter requirements with clients who don't understand English — “;you find yourself using a lot of gestures sometimes,”; she said. In these cases, clients “;get very anxious because they feel they're getting into trouble and think, 'Oh, no, I'm going to be homeless again.'”;

They usually bring in a family member who better understands and speaks English to be an interpreter, and often it's one of the children who have picked up some language skill in school.