Talk Story: Aunties Franque and Yolanda

  • Caleb Loehrer / The Garden Island

    Auntie Franque, right, and Yolanda Hala’an talk story in the living room of their home near Salt Pond Beach Park lasat week.

  • Caleb Loehrer / The Garden Island

    Auntie Franke looks at the abandoned cars that once cluttered the area that now serves as her front lawn. “I keep a lotta kids that get in trouble working on that,” she said. “But they don’t know that I pulled the coil from the car. So they can’t never start it.”

  • Caleb Loehrer / The Garden Island

    Auntie Franque’s home near Salt Pond Beach Park last week. She calls it “Hale Pakele.” “To me, it’s a place to feel safe.”

Louise Oclit and Yolanda Hala‘an live together in the bushes back by Salt Pond Beach Park. On Monday, they gave The Garden Island’s reporter permission to come talk story with them at their home.

Auntie Yolanda: We both grew up together — classmates — during our school years. So we know each other from childhood days.

Auntie Franque: My real name is Louise, but they all call me Franque, including the warden himself. Although, he hates my name, thinks it’s subculture. It’s with a Q. It’s with a Q-U-E.

TGI: What is this place called?

Franque: They are coming up with the Hawaiian name. For me, it was just some place was safe. It’s a safe place. I would have called it Pakele — Hale Pakele, which means, escape from harm. That’s what pakele means. That’s my son’s name — escape from harm.

Cause, safety. That’s what I’m going for right now. Safety. For make everybody feel safe and some place for they no more some place else for go and talk. Safe.

Yolanda: My camp, where I used to live, got trashed by the Department of Transportation.

She sniffed at one tear.

And, um, Auntie Franque invited me here to stay, cause they trashed everything I owned. Everything that I owned.

She started crying hard.

TGI: Who did that?

Yolanda: Department of Transportation, Highways. The notice was 24 hours to vacate. So I was abiding by the rules, so I packed up the night before. And I was going out early in the morning to get a permit down at the neighborhood center, and when I reached back, half an hour later, my camp was ground zero, like the Twin Towers — dirt.

Everything I had was gone. And people that was there — they were loading up the truck already — was stealing my stuff. I love the ocean, so I go out spearing in the ocean, diving, picking opihis and stuff. They stole my spear rubber, my dive suit.

And I said, “Put it back. Why you came there? To clean up my camp or to steal my stuff?” You know what I mean? And that’s exactly what he did. But I wasn’t mad. I wasn’t angry. I was psycho for what they did!

Franque: When they did hers. I’m glad that I got to talk to them. Cause there was about 15 boys that I looked at, and they’re like Samoan, Tongan descent — or Hawaiian, some Hawaiian.

I said, “Come. All of you.” And they looked at me. I said, “I’m going speak to all of you. And you guys going walk away from me when I talking to you. You like people walk away from you when you talking to them? Then give me this moment.

“Today I’m going speak truth to you guys. Cause you know why? No matter what happens, that you will know that when you walk from here, that I had spoken honestly and true to you. And I’m gonna address you guys as if I’m your auntie. So you look at me right now, young man. I’m your auntie. Are you OK with doing this to your auntie?”

Some of ‘em cried, and they said, “No.” And I said, “Some of you, I can tell just by the look of you, you live on the street as well. So the incentive program must have been great to get here. You got a great trip to Kauai. And you got some compensation pay staying here. They feed you, give you money for food, you can choose to either bunk together and you guys eat one can Spam instead of your own can, and you get money in your pocket when you go home. But it’s seasonal.

“It’s not seasonal for us out here. Not for auntie. Not for auntie. It’s not seasonal. This is for real. This is every day.”

I myself, never thought I was gonna have to go through something like this. I was born on Oahu. I was living, raised, on the East Side, but I grew up a lot on the West Side with family members. And I come from one really good family so I was allowed to do a lot as a young child. I was pretty popular. Still kinda am.

She laughed.

Still kinda am. But in other areas, I was kinda naughty growing up. I grew up with a lot. A lot. I was afforded a lot. So coming upon this situation in my life was, was something…um… It was the greatest experience I’ve ever had.

I’ve never learned more appreciation in my life. Survival is one real word. You can make one mistake — lucky if you can make it once. Really, cause it is important to know what you doing to live out in our environment.

Like, I’m used to one roof. If it rains, you run under one roof. Not an umbrella. I go straight for one roof. I don’t even trust the umbrella. I run straight for one roof. You know, today I’m comfortable with the leaks.

TGI: How long did it take you to get comfortable?

Franque: For here? It’s taken me almost two years. Right here, in this spot. Just about two years I’ve been here. Took me almost about eight months to clean this place up. But this was a great place for me cause this is where I let go my hurt and my anger.

Cause I couldn’t do it already. I felt like everything was falling apart, and I knew that I was about to either go back to become incarcerated, fall back into old ways, which I have fallen back on many times, to the degree of that’s where I was planted already. That’s where I believed almost that I was planted to remain.

So I came here. My son was dying. And then my son had passed, and that catapulted everything in me. So I knew I was dangerous already for myself, to be around others, cause I was gonna start something just to release whatever I had in me. Cause I couldn’t blame nobody, you know. I was in a blaming stage. My son was sick.

And I couldn’t provide him one home, and I couldn’t…there’s so much I couldn’t do. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t do that, but… Good though. Good. Cause sometimes you gotta broke for get better. You gotta break to get better. Sometimes you gotta, and I needed to. I had to fall apart.

Yolanda: Struggle, and push yourself back up. You know what I mean? We struggle, but we push ourselves right back up.

Franque: It’s the greatest thing that happened — to broke — to break apart was the best thing that happened to me. Cause now I’m geared to move forward. I’m more open.

I lost my son, making me wanna reach for my daughters — cause I have five children — made me wanna reach for my daughters more. You know, I raised them pretty much with an iron hand. Cause I didn’t wanna deal with them! So it was lickins all the time. Lickins.

So you know, when I lost him, it was like reaching for them more. I know what loss is now. To lose your child is, is, is… You cannot even describe the pain. And then my other child, my oldest, got into an accident, and it was insane. And then my kids they fell into the same things that I did. To watch myself play out in front of me, and try and work with that…

First I did it the way my mom did it, and I realized then, that ain’t going work cause that didn’t work with me. I tweak it a little bit more.

She lit a cigarette — USA Gold.

TGI: Those ones are so harsh.

Franque: But they’re cheap, and they’re affordable. And I just like smoke so I can shut my mouth sometimes.

So, I reach for my girls, and I knew one thing. I had an X factor. This is what I said: I know how I’m going get my kids. I’m going make this place so awesome, they’re friends going wanna hang here. And if they’re friends wanna hang here, my kids going stay with me. I had to make it so X-factored out, extreme, that it was the coolest chillest place to be that they would wanna brag about it and tell their friends, come hang out with me.

TGI: Did it happen?

Franque: It’s happening. Families, people with families — cause there’s a lotta people out there that don’t have a home — they’re all living on the street, right in the front the street.

I said, please. I told them, “Come off the street. You know why you’re getting problems? Cause the state workers gotta do their job, and it is unsightly.” But some people will fight me, and say, “You don’t understand.”

I say, “I understand. You don’t gotta play out the part because that’s what you think you gotta do to get the attention of others, or for people to realize, cause people can see you and not even worry about it. You understand? All you doing is putting more stress on the actual taxpayers that really do budget their money and can’t afford. They were paying for you, for them to come there and clean. That’s not their problem, you know!”

The thing is, don’t be unsightly. Don’t look the part. You don’t have to. Being without a home, being without a job or having a hard time, doesn’t have to look the whole part. So I asked a lot of them to please go to the bushes where nobody stay. I did. I said, “Come off the street.”

Kauai gotta look one certain way. That’s just how it is. I cannot change the way of the world. I know this much though. I can change the way people see things. I know this. If I put enough concentration in it, I can help you guys change what they see. Take ‘em outta sight, outta mind. Come in the bushes. I can show you guys one different way, which is what we doing. We all work together. We all work together. I go, “Come in the bushes. You need something, you come see me. I’ll help you if I can. If not, I know people. I know places.”

Cause I had to go from ground zero. I needed to go from ground zero because I rammed straight into the ground, man. I went straight, head first, into the ground, and was trying to dig tunnels that I thought I could bring up.

TGI: How many people live back here?

Franque: We have my daughter, she’s brought a few friends. I’d say one, two, three…. There’s four…five people here. I asked them, with the Native Hawaiian Kingdom, they said, “What would you like to do with this place?” I said, “I think the space that I’ve cleaned up, you could put about three to four families.” I said, “Here. Build one lo‘i. Like villages in villages. Like sectors in a village. One area like this, boom. Up to four families could live here off of one lo‘i, and we maintain. We’d be able to self-sustain ‘em.

Keep ‘em off the street. Cause I know this in my heart. I know this. I’ve seen it work. If you’re safe, if you keep a person safe, beyond anything, if you can make a person feel safe, it can bring the best side of a person out. They’ll come out. They’ll wanna participate. They’ll want more for themself. They’ll be able to step out of what ever dark area they’re in if they feel safe. Beyond anything. Cause you can feed a hungry person, but you cannot feed safety. Safety you have to feel. And that’s what I wanna provide.

TGI: How many people come through here that need a safe place to stay every now and then?

Franque: I’ve had about, a little over 20 people. I’ve had families here, where they’ve had their children. And after some time, they get themselves back on their feet.

Like there’s a few families I had that were like three children each. They waited, you know, they waited seven months for offer to help with HUD and find a house. It’s a smaller house. They got a one bedroom house for the three children and them. But the children need certain things because criticism. Kid’s are cruel! Other kids, they’ll stigmatize the children.

I watched this young girl from happy to…she isolated. She’s 13 years old. Thirteen years old. She went from totally happy childhood to, “I don’t wanna go to beach, want nobody see us.” And now they back in a home, so maybe she’ll do something different.

TGI: What did this place look like when you first came?

Franque: One dumpground. You couldn’t see this ground. This ground was covered about this high.

TGI: With what?

Franque: Dirt. And rubbish. And cars. And washing machines. And transponders, you know, for the electric — the utility, where they get those big places where they get the electric?

Yolanda: Transformers.

Franque: Transformers. They had those things in here.

Yolanda: The copper people, that steal copper? They came down here and strip ‘em.

Franque: I try to make myself open enough to see, if I was coming on a vacation, I do not wanna see this. It’s sad, but it’s true. That’s true. People don’t — they don’t like see that. I tried to appease their eye, what they see. So I kept it clean.

TGI: Can I see your camp?

Franque: Sure. Come on. Let’s go. Let’s go show. So, when we first started off, the truck is leaning up against this tree. It was this truck against this tree. I just slept in the back of this truck. And this whole place was covered in trees and pigs. So scary. I would sleep with everything up and bars. I was so scared, but I had no place to go. I had to come here.

TGI: You had never lived out in nature before?

Franque: Oh, no, no. Oh, no. I didn’t even knew what one fan was. I knew what A/C was. Oh I was spoiled! I spoiled everybody with me.

So, this you could never see. Cars were like this. This was the cars that were left here. They were busted up. I pushed a few in the back. I banged ‘em, with this truck, or yanked ‘em. This whole area was packed with metal and whatever. I moved ‘em. I yanked ‘em. I took it all out. I took all the rubbish I could, that they would allow me to.

I could show you some cars in here that have been in here for 27 years, and I know so, cause I used to party in that damn car that’s parked up there, way up in this bush. And I told them that.

I said, You like argue with me? I’m gonna tell you what’s going happen. You guys going come in here. You guys going remove everything. Okay? So going displace one family or one person. You going take out about three or four cars. Maybe. I think you’re going leave one up there cause you cannot pull through cause something about the axle that fall out so you guys going get tired of trying to pull ‘em.

You going make 32 trash bags full of rubbish. You’re going leave ‘em up there. You’re going take about 11 of ‘em. It’s going sit there, and it’s going disintegrate in the years to come. And four years later, you’re going go through the same thing cause you never take the rest of the cars.

Because 27 years ago, I sat in that very car up there, and it’s still there. And you’ve done this. So no tell me you’re doing this for build something. I am sitting on unoccupied land that no one even cared about.

TGI: So what should I tell them in the newspaper? Leave ‘em alone?

Franque: Join us! Be part of who we are. Don’t make us somebody we aren’t. We not different! We’re not different. We make mistakes like how everybody else make mistakes. We do the same things! Our financial budget is different.

Auntie pointed to a busted abandoned car sitting nearby.

Franque: I keep a lotta kids that get in trouble working on that. But they don’t know that I pulled the coil from the car. So they can’t never start it. They wanna work on cars so I pulled the coil. They have no idea, so they going keep working on it cause they gonna make it run. I said, “Whoever starts the car gets the car.”

TGI: Think they’ll get it?

Franque: Not yet. It’s been a year.

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