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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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Kamalani (15), Kisha (14), Zandi (20) and Branzi (7) hang out in the casual living room, where the family spends most of their time. Tisha (14), not pictured.

“From the time I got into the shelter, I knew the next step was getting out,” Dorie says. “I prayed very, very hard for us, but I told God, ‘I cannot afford nothing. I’ve looked and I’ve looked.’”

One month after the Kahales moved into the shelter, “God brought Kawamoto out,” she says. While driving her carpool to work one morning, two radio DJs couldn’t stop talking about one of the most bizarre news stories Hawaii had heard in awhile. Genshiro Kawamoto, a billionaire from Japan who owned dozens of homes on Oahu, had announced that he would rent several of his Kahala Avenue homes to needy Hawaiian families for $150 a month.

“I felt like he was talking to me,” Dorie says. “After I dropped off my carpool and drove to Koko Marina, I said, ‘Thank you, God. Thank you for the answer.’”

By Kahala Avenue standards, Dorie’s new home is modest, next to sprawling kamaaina estates and lot-filling mansions. Many of her neighbors’ homes are barely visible from the street, hidden behind story-high walls. Dorie’s white, two-story colonial house is easy to spot on the mauka corner of Kahala and Elepaio Street. A plastic banner strung up between two palm trees reads: “Mahalo, Kawamoto-San!” The ornate, wrought-iron gate that had fronted the property had been torn down before she moved in, as were the gates for the other two properties Kawamoto gave away last spring.

“Outside, it looks like a regular home, like Eight is Enough—you know that show? But when I came inside, I thought, holy crap,” she says.

April 22 was the first day Dorie and her children were allowed to enter the house, and she was almost too afraid to get out of the car. One of Kawamoto’s staffers—Miguel, a maintenance worker—came to her door to guide her through the crowd of reporters, spotlights and TV cameras. Dorie had brought a white envelope filled with $400 in cash, not knowing when Kawamoto would want her rent money. That’s when he announced that he would not take her cash. All three families could stay in his homes for the next decade, rent-free.

Of the three families Kawamoto picked, the Kahales have received the most media attention, mainly because of the Cinderella story (headlines usually read something like, “From homeless shelter to Kahala mansion”) and Dorie’s enthusiasm for talking about it. The Worley family, only a few houses away, had gotten one of Kawamoto’s homes when the lease on their Waianae house was almost up; they hadn’t been homeless. The Gusman family had been homeless, but has declined media interviews since they moved to Kahala.

Not Dorie. She’s done interviews with ABC’s Nightline—“They cut to an interview with Barack Obama event right after that!”—and The New York Times and CNN. She can’t believe how skinny TV reporters are in person and told one local news anchor that she looked like she might blow away. She saw Steven Seagal as she drove past him near the Kahala Hotel. “He waved to me!” she says.

The media circus hasn’t been all fun. Dorie Googled herself one day to see what was being written about her and found a post from a blogger who criticized Kawamoto for handing out his homes to single moms. “He wrote something like, ‘I don’t know why Kawamoto feels sorry for these lazy-ass mothers who do nothing. Look one of the moms, get five girls and so many different dads—why would you feel sorry for these women?’”

Dorie cried after that she read that. She started typing out a reply that began, “You don’t really know us, what we went through in our past.” But she ended up not submitting the message.

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Honolulu Magazine June 2018
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