Many Kauai residents are struggling to make ends meet. Among them is Gilbert Medeiros, a Vietnam-era Army veteran.
Growing up in a plantation camp and working since the age of 12, Medeiros was employed as a mechanic and machinist. He worked as a licensed driver for Kauai Freight, Rego Trucking, Garden Island Disposal and finally Thronas Concrete for more than 30 years before taking early retirement.
Today, he works three part-time jobs, despite suffering from sciatica, torn tendons, collapsed vertebrae and drop-foot syndrome, as well as a piece of glass stuck in his head from an accident that resulted from a runaway load while hauling sugar cane.
“We were very fortunate our in-laws gave us their old house built in 1954,” Medeiros said. “I made a promise that I’ll maintain the house, and that’s their sweat. I’m very, very fortunate, I thank God all the time.”
“My father in-law, I love him dearly, he had a good heart and took care of them, and I’m trying to do the same. I’m just trying to do what’s right.”
Nearly one-third of Hawaii families don’t meet self-sufficiency income levels, according to a recent state report.
The report looked at the costs of housing, food, transportation, child care and taxes. It found that families on Kauai and Maui needed the highest self-sufficiency incomes to make ends meet, while some of the lowest incomes needed were seen on the Big Island.
Mederios’ wife, son, two daughters, four grandchildren and daughter’s partner all live in the modest Koloa house. Even through the difficult times and family issues when his kids needed bailing out, he always remembered that his grandparents told him to never give up.
“We got the basics, we got a roof over our head, we got enough accommodations for everybody,” he said. “If anybody leaves it’s going to be a burden on everybody else. But the way it is right now, nobody can leave the program.”
The 63-year-old can make $17,000 annually while still collecting his full Social Security earnings. Although he doesn’t accept any form of government assistance, he offers his mechanic services to friends in exchange for fruit and vegetables.
“Nowadays I’ve come to realize that if you don’t stick together it’s hard,” he said. “If you don’t have that support system, I really don’t see how you can make a long-term deal out of this.”
As Portuguese descendants, his family has been on Kauai for seven generations and has seen many changes. Medeiros used to hunt and fish but says now there are too many rules and regulations.
“You’ve got to get permits and this and that. Everything costs,” he said. “If you don’t have the money to dish out for all that, you can’t even provide for your family anymore.”
His parents and grandparents used to say that out of your sweat is how you’re supposed to support your family.
“You’ve got to cut back here and there, but there’s good times every now and then,” he said. “It seems hard, and sometimes I want to give up honestly. But there’s always a silver lining.”
“When you struggle to get something, you appreciate it that much more,” he added. “I appreciate my family sticking together. That’s the only spark that keeps me going through these hard times.”