EL Aina DaNine sits at a bus stop in Kapaa every day.
But she’s not waiting for the bus.
She lives there. This has been her home for the past year.
“Hi EL Aina,” shouts a woman, who waves from the passenger window of a passing pickup truck.
“God bless you,” DaNine yells back and returns the wave.
She flashes a big smile. A happy smile.
“People are so kind,” she says.
The 53-year-old woman has called this bus stop just off Kuhio Highway outside the Kapaa Neighborhood Center her home since November 2016. She recalls when it became her residence, to the date.
“I ended up here around Thanksgiving last year. I marked the time. The barbecue place down the street was having a big promotion,” she said. “The guy living at the hostel said, ‘They’re giving away free dinners at Chicken in a Barrel.’ I didn’t know what to do, where to go. It just so happened God blessed me right then and there.”
It’s not easy, life at a bus stop. It’s noisy and hot during the day and when it rains, the roof helps but doesn’t keep the water out.
Cars, trucks, buses and people pass by all day. Strangers come and go. People stop and stare.
A bus rolls up, pauses briefly, then pulls away.
EL Aina DaNine remains rock solid.
She speaks of God often. She talks of following this path God set her on. She enthusiastically outlines her plans to start a church on the North Shore. Her name for it is, “Holy Father, Holy Son and Holy Spirit Church.”
“We don’t do religion,” she says. “We simply worship God in spirit and in truth. It’s just a beautiful thing.”
It won’t be just a church. Next door will be a gathering place for food and drinks after service, a place where folks can talk. And adjacent to that, she says, will be a farm to grow food.
Once, she says, that goal seemed so close.
Shortly after arriving on Kauai from Fairfax County, Va., outside Washington, D.C., those plans went awry.
DaNine, homeless and living on and around Kealia Beach, says she once had a laptop, a smart phone and other electronics for her work. But, over time, they were stolen. She replaced them sometimes, using her credit card, but they were stolen again. Even her credit card was eventually stolen.
A friend finally told her, “You know, you’re a sitting duck. People are watching you.”
So she stopped buying replacements and held on to what she still had, which wasn’t much. Clothes, a tarp, a few personal belongings.
One day, she says, her backpack containing important documents, identification and other papers was stolen, too, when she took a short shower.
“I lost everything,” she said.
She decided she needed a better place to live, safer, more in the open.
“It became too difficult to go to the back, for more reasons than one,” she said.
The bus stop seemed like a good place.
It’s there she sits, usually with her back to the traffic. She reads, she feeds the chickens, she talks to those who want to talk, and she mediates and she prays.
“I pray for everyone. This is not just concerning me. This could happen to you and your family,” she said. “Jesus Christ told me to don’t worry and to trust him and to be still.”
Sometimes, she actually does take the bus. To Lihue, maybe Kilauea. To the store for some shopping. But not often.
Pretty much, she’s at the bus stop, referred to by one man as “The Angel at the Kapaa bus stop.”
“Sometimes, I’m gone all day. But I come back,” she says.
Her belongings are piled on the ground around her. Those include a bag of canned goods. A bag of clothes. A purse. A comforter. An umbrella. A tarp. At night, she sleeps on the bus stop bench, softened by a pad given to her by a friend.
She says she doesn’t plan on going anywhere. Not yet, anyway.
“I consider it a place of obedience, where Jesus Christ told me to stay,” she says. “He reminded me not to be afraid. He owns it all. He owns it all.”
DaNine appears to be joyful and happy. She speaks with confidence, which she says it’s not her own.
“My confidence comes from Him,” she says.
DaNine says she used to be in real estate, ran marathons and served in the military. She came to Kauai to enjoy the beauty of the island and finish up her doctorate degree in theology.
She visited different churches, made friends and was learning about crops for the planned church and farm when her legs began hurting. Her feet swelled. Walking was painful
“All of the sudden, as I was making headway, I lost my legs and my legs are my greatest asset,” she said.
Doctors tried to find the source of the problem. Gout, arthritis, diabetes, blood conditions were considered.
“They ruled out everything,” she said.
Her legs and feet, she says, are like someone pumped them full of air, like a tire. It’s very uncomfortable.
“It looks more grotesque than what it is,” DaNine says. “I was like you when I came. Considering my destiny and what’s ahead, my health is as good as it can get right now.”
Despite the thefts, the health problems, and living at a bus stop, DaNine believes better days are ahead.
“It’s more of a spiritual battle than anything else. Everything was stripped away all at once,” she said. “The attack came right away, as soon as I was making headway. I got off to a good start. I got too close, I suppose I was moving fast in the name of Jesus Christ.”
She remains thankful for all the people who have given her food, water, clothes, supplies and encouragement.
Once, a person came with warm water so she could take a warm shower.
“I couldn’t have been happier,” says DaNine.
Some are sympathetic to her situation and help. Others are critical and tell her she should move on and question why the county allows her to live there.
In response to a query from TGI about why that is, the county responded:
“County of Kauai officials have met with this individual on numerous occasions since March. Officials and police officers have offered her assistance in relocating and referred her to seek help from various resource agencies. However, she has politely declined all offers.
“We can understand the frustration from bus riders who frequent this stop, and the county is working on ways to prohibit loitering at bus stops when the bus is not in operation.
“Before we move forward, the county will work with the community, the County Council, and fellow county agencies to create a fair solution for all users of the bus.”
DaNine appreciates the county’s efforts.
“When they hear my story and they know my purpose here, a lot of them have been very understanding,” she said.
Meantime, DaNine says she’s getting by, thanks to “God’s love and his kindness.”
“It all works out in my favor by the grace of God.”
She says she has all she needs.
“If I don’t have canned goods there are always people coming by dropping off a plate of this or a plate of that,” she says.
“Things they thought I might need. They just bring it. One lady, she was very kind. She comes with a pot of pasta.”
Do people bother her at night? How does she manage to sleep?
DaNine, again, offers a friendly smile.
“Oh no, the people are good. The outdoor warriors, the people that live outdoors, no one bothers me,” she said.
“We know who each other are. They know what I’m about.”
She has found others who are homeless not because they lack money, but because they prefer living “without four walls.”
They like to camp, fish, write and move about as they please.
The church she hopes to start, she said, will be like that. A building, but without spiritual walls.
It will be a church, DaNine says, “for all people, all nations, every color, every kindred, every kind.”
“I’ll be able to help the people that live outdoors,” she says.
DaNine acknowledges that many people are wary of the homeless.
“I can understand why, because of the multitude and magnitude of things that are happening behind the scenes, a twisted wire of ugliness, of things that should not be,” she says.
But she moves on quickly when the topic turns heavy-hearted.
“I’ve learned so much. Being here has just been a blessing, especially knowing the kindness of people who come by here.”
DaNine uses that word often. She sees the good in people. She finds the best in situations. In times when someone else might turn nasty, mean, she remains pleasant and positive.
Even the recent heavy rains did not cause her to lose hope.
“I would sit here and watch rain go down the street. It would go down one way and down in back of me, but it would never come across. So, I would just watch it rain and all I could say was, ‘Thank you, Lord.’”