Candlelight vigil draws dozens to seek ways to raise awareness

LIHUE — Jasmine Duque wasn’t always homeless.

“Five years ago, I had a home on the Big Island and I was a teacher,” she said Monday. “But when my husband and I broke up, I became homeless. I slowly started to put my life together, I started going to college. But then, in 2011, my world fell apart again when I heard my older brother passed away.”

So Duque moved back to Kauai to be with family. But soon, the stress was too much.

“I slowly began to lose my grasp on reality and I got into really bad relationships,” she said. “I moved from place to place on the Eastside, from living in cars and tents.”

Now, Duque is living at a shelter at Women In Need, a nonprofit organization that helps women and families in need.

“I have the respect and trust of my family back,” she said.

Duque was one of about 45 people who attended a candlelight vigil at Lihue United Church. Almost every pew at the church was filled. The vigil was hosted by the Kauai Community Alliance in an effort to raise awareness to the plight of the homeless.

Irana Martin, who lives in transitional housing, was homeless for 19 years. But with the help of Women In Need, Martin was able to get sober and find housing.

“I thank God, and I give my whole life to God,” she said. “Because of him, I was able to better myself.”

The mother of six, who also has 15 grandchildren, said she loves her new life.

“Before, I used to be so angry,” she said.

Vivien Davenport said she attended the vigil after hearing about it from a friend.

“I’m from the Westside, and homelessness is an epidemic, especially in the Hanapepe area,” she said. “They get run out from the beaches.”

Davenport believes part of the reason why people are homeless is because they don’t check off every box that’s required of them to get HUD or other forms of help.

“They have situations that make them fall through the system,” she said. “Some are felons and others don’t have the right paperwork, and these are stumbling blocks.”

Oftentimes, they don’t know or understand the HUD process, which leaves them discouraged, she said.

Rhan Honjo believes the term affordable housing is subjective.

“Who sets the guidelines as to what’s affordable?” he said. “There are some people who won’t be able to make $300,000 in 50 years.”

One solution, he said, is moving to alternative dwelling units that don’t have a high cost of living, like yurts.

“There are a lot of people who are houseless and struggling. ADU’s work, it’s a matter of managing them.”

Now is the time to act, said Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura.

“We have to work together as a community to address homelessness. It’s easy to keep talking and talking about it, but we need to to make some changes,” she said. “We need to work harder to provide sufficient housing for all of our people.”

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