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Former homeless mothers enjoy new apartments after transitioning from Kahaluu housing program

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Every day, Jasmine Lopez, 33, wakes up in her Moiliili apartment with her 1-year-old son, thinking it’s all a dream.

It’s not. The former homeless mother is living in her own home after a year of surviving on the streets and homeless shelters while raising a newborn baby.

“It doesn’t feel real,” she said. “It’s something that you dream about when you’re on the streets. When you get off of the streets, you make sure you never want to go back to that.”

Lopez is one of 15 mothers who succeeded from The Shelter, a transitional housing program in Kahaluu, which she thanks for giving her a second chance to restart her life.

The program opened its doors for single mothers and their children in late 2018. Since then — in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic — eight of the 15 families are living in their own rental units, and four mothers have reconciled and live with their own families. Three mothers have transitioned into other programs.

The Shelter — which works with the Institute for Human Services — connects the families with housing programs. Once they have a job for two months and meet other criteria, they can qualify for rental units through the city-county rental assistance program.

Senior Pastor Klayton Ko of First Assembly of God and The Shelter Executive Director Daniel Kaneshiro said the vision of the program is “changing the heart.”

“It’s not a matter of a beautiful house; it’s the change of the heart,” Kaneshiro said. “With the change of heart we can change the lifestyle, change of responsibility and change of responsibility to their kids.”

Kristy Sacatropez, 39, is another mother who moved out of The Shelter, into her own two-bedroom Kaneohe apartment. She even works full time at Servco Pacific Inc. That helps her with rent, other bills and taking care of her three children.

But it wasn’t easy, she said.

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Sacatropez had struggled to find a job after her knee surgery about two years ago. She bounced from spending some nights at a friend’s house to sleeping in her car. And her children stayed with their grandmother.

She had almost lost hope until she “took a leap of faith at The Shelter,” where she lived for about six months.

Her advice to mothers is “to not give up and to keep seeking help. God puts people in your life for a reason. You may not know it all of the time until it comes around.”

The Shelter was a response to Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s appeal in 2015 for the faith community to find solutions for Hawaii’s homeless issue.

It has 12 igloolike domes that come from a company in Alaska — each costing about $10,000 to $12,000. Seven of the nine domes are currently occupied by residents, one is occupied by the resident manager, while two are used as restrooms. Each resident pays $200 to $300 a month for rent.

Kaneshiro said there have been discussions to provide more domes and services to the program.

Hope for brighter future

Other mothers and their children at The Shelter are awaiting their turn to have their own place. Currently, there are seven adults and 13 children in the program. Stays for each family vary from three weeks to over a year.

Danielle Welch, 34, is one of the mothers waiting for her turn to have her own home again.

Over a year ago she was addicted to drugs and lived in a tent with her three children.

“It was scary being a single parent,” she said. “I went through depression.”

Nearly losing her kids to Child Protective Services gave her the motivation to change her habits. She has been sober ever since.

When she came to The Shelter in May, she vowed to help mothers who were in her situation. She added that she wants to work as an employee at The Shelter one day.

As for Lopez, she’s adjusting to a larger space compared with the 314-square-foot dome.

For her whole life, she battled with mental illness caused by a childhood trauma that she declined to discuss in detail.

“I dealt with depression and anxiety,” she said. “It makes me make impulsive decisions, and it led me to making a decision where I ended up homeless in another state.”

That state was Texas, where she was kicked out of a friend’s house and spent the night in the streets for about two months in 2018. She was pregnant at that time and reached out to her cousin to fly her back home to Hawaii.

But her troubles didn’t end there. She scrambled to find her own place because she didn’t want to burden her cousin.

For four months she was in the Mary Jane program, which assists expecting mothers. The program connected her with The Shelter, where she stayed from August 2019 to April.

“Being at the Shelter from Day One, it felt like you’re really loved and welcomed,” she said.

She added that she and the other mothers were all striving and dreaming to have their own place again with their kids.

“If we look at homeless people as another human being instead of a prob­- lem, then maybe we could all work together to help end homelessness,” she said.