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Movin’ on Up (To Kahala)

In April, Dorie-Ann Kahale and her daughters made headlines around the globe when they were chosen to move from a homeless shelter to a mansion on Kahala Avenue. Four months later, are they still living the fairy tale?


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For a month and a half, Dorie-Ann Kahale lived under a gray tarp at Nanakuli Flats. She and her five daughters, ages 6 to 20, had moved there after the rent on her two-bedroom apartment in Waimalu had gone from $800 to $1,200. Technically, it increased to $1,000, but the landlord charged an extra $25 each day she was late, and by the time she had enough money to pay, it ended up being more like $1,200. Too much for a single mom making $24,000 a year taking customer service calls at an Internet company.

It wasn’t the first time Dorie and her children had been homeless. Before Waimalu, they had slept in the backyard of her sister-in-law’s house in Waimanalo for more than a year.

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The girls loved living on the beach in Nanakuli . Dorie’s brother-in-law and his children were among the 20 families already living there, so it felt like a long camping trip. Dorie tried to make life as normal as possible, waking up at 3:30 a.m. to get ready for work and leaving the beach by 4:15 a.m. to drive the 40 miles to her job in Koko Marina. She finished work a little before 5 p.m., got home by 7 or 8 p.m. and cooked dinner on a hot plate, often fish. For bathing, she drove her daughters to the next beach over, where the restrooms were cleaner and safer.

Sundays were still church days at Lanakila Church, a two-story white house on Maunalei Avenue in Kaimuki. Dorie had grown up at that church. Forty years earlier, her father, Joseph Kahale, had walked into the office of the church pastor, the Rev. Charles Tang. Joseph had told the reverend that his wife was seven months pregnant, and he wanted him to be the godfather of what would be the last of their eight children—the baby of the family.

Joseph died when Dorie was 6 years old, and her childhood was split between her family’s home in Waimanalo and the reverend’s home in Diamond Head. “I lived two lives,” she says. “My real family was living in poverty, struggling to make ends meet, but it was awesome because the love was just unbelievable—that’s how Hawaiians are. And with my godfather, who was Chinese, in a big house in Diamond Head. He was a very strong man who gave me a strong spiritual upbringing.”

Dorie’s own children didn’t have that stability. Her youngest daughter, Branzi, had already lived in a half-dozen places, one for nearly every year since she was born. While her children slept under their tent at Nanakuli Flats, “I was falling apart and crying to God, ‘I can’t believe I brought my kids this low.’ I said to God, ‘I don’t now where you’re going with this, Lord, but I do know you’re the pilot of what’s going on in this life.’”

One evening in August last year, Dorie came home from work to find her daughters sitting quietly under their tent—the only one left on the beach. The whole camp was gone. While Dorie was at work, city workers had moved the other families into the newly opened Onelauena shelter at Kalaeloa.

Her daughters looked at her, asking “Mom, what are we going to do? We can’t stay here with everybody gone.” Dorie told them, “Don’t worry. God will take care of us.”

Less than a week later, they were allowed to move into the homeless shelter at Kalaeloa. The girls liked living at the beach better. All six of them shared one room in the three-story, cinderblock building, which had once been a military barracks. They had one double bed, which the girls usually left for their mom, and a mattress on the floor. Like all the other families in the building, they were assigned a time every day to use the showers in the communal bathrooms on their floor. Once, Dorie saw ukus jumping on the sink counter and told the girls not to put anything down in the bathroom from that point on.


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Honolulu Magazine June 2019
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