Updated on March 31, 2017
Stories from the Front Lines: A Clean Start in Lahaina
By Brandi Salas
Nani knows everyone who comes to the Homeless Drop-In Center at The Salvation Army Lahaina Lighthouse Corps. “I see these people because I am one of them. We come here to take a shower, have a hot meal, and much more,” she says. “We are all here because of certain circumstances and bad decisions.”
Nani is a 38-year-old mother of two little girls. She grew up in Lahaina all her life. “Some people think living in Maui is a dream, a paradise, but it’s not like that for some of us,” she says. Nani explains that she spent most of her childhood in a foster home after her mother’s boyfriend molested her. “My mother was a drug addict with a horrible boyfriend. I went into foster care at the age of six and…well…being a child of the system, I started rebelling and experimenting with drugs in my teenage years. I got into meth and pills. These are the things I was exposed to at such a young age,” she says.
The Lahaina Lighthouse Corps boasts one of the most compassionate homeless Drop-In Centers in the area. Envoys Kevin and Vidella Nagasaki run the center and make sure every person is clean, fed, and getting the help they need. “Uncle Kevin and Aunty Vidella have become like family to me,” says Nani. “They just want to love every person that walks through these doors because they know that these people have been through hard times or are victims of some sort.”
Approximately 50 people visit the Drop-In Center every day. The showers are stocked with shampoo, soap, and toothpaste. Men can shave their beards and women have access to feminine products. Caseworker Aranda Kahaialii supervises the showers to make sure everything runs smoothly.
She says, “My job is to make sure every person here is treated like a person. We don’t see homeless people as throw-away people, we try to give them every reason to feel dignified, to feel like they can secure and hold down a job, and to be somebody that can contribute to the community.” She and another Caseworker assist clients in their search for jobs and housing. “Giving them access to our facilities may help them feel hopeful and ready for a clean start,” said Aranda.
Nani is one of the few who stay after the Drop-In Center closes to help Envoy Kevin and his staff clean, restock, and prepare for the next meal. “Uncle Kevin cooks every meal. He’s here from early morning to late at night. Aunty Vidella is supposed to be retired, but she works for free to help others like us,” says Nani.
“One thing Uncle Kevin and Aunty Vidella taught me is to love one another as God loves us,” says Nani. “They are trying to help my family get into a home of our own. My husband works two jobs while I take care of the kids during the day. It will happen soon. I have faith that it will.”
Armed with a small staff of five, The Salvation Army Lahaina Lighthouse Corps serves thousands of people each week through its feeding program, Homeless Drop-In Center, case management services, mobile food distribution services, and worship services. They also counsel and refer clients to drug treatment programs on O‘ahu.
The Corps relies heavily on volunteers, donations from its Thrift Store, hotel partners, and community donations. Many lives are changed each year.
Learn more at lahaina.salvationarmy.org.