George Vonner flies home to Southern California this morning after finding himself homeless and jobless on Oahu for the last five weeks and will reunite with his wife as part of a fledgling program that has sent five homeless people back to the mainland this year.
"This is a happy ending," state Rep. John Mizuno (D, Kamehameha Heights-Kalihi Valley-Fort Shafter) said yesterday in his Capitol office as he stood next to Vonner.
Mizuno, chairman of the House Human Services Committee, contributed $100 toward Vonner’s one-way, $274 ticket home to Riverside, Calif.
Vonner’s wife of 18 months, Charlene, works at a fast-food restaurant in Riverside and added another $180, which will help pay for food during a trip that will take Vonner from Honolulu to Seattle to Ontario, Calif., on Alaska Airlines.
Mizuno has been helping send homeless people back to the mainland since legislators killed a bill last session that he authored with Rep. Rida Cabanilla (D, Waipahu-Honouliuli-Ewa).
The bill would have created a $100,000 fund to reunite homeless people with their families on the mainland and — according to Mizuno and Cabanilla — keep mainland homeless people from using resources and services that could go to local homeless people.
Based on the success so far, Mizuno and Cabanilla plan to reintroduce their bill next session.
Vonner found out about the program when he wandered around the Capitol seeking help and eventually was introduced to Mizuno.
Vonner, 43, arrived on Oahu on Sept. 24 after losing his job driving a cab in Southern California. He planned to live with his cousin, find a job, get an apartment and save up enough money to fly his wife to Oahu.
But the cousin’s wife did not want Vonner living with them.
"I can’t override his wife," Vonner said.
He applied for jobs at fast-food restaurants but never got hired. So Vonner ended up sleeping in a cardboard box with other homeless people he befriended next to a bus shelter near the Institute for Human Services in Iwilei. He received food from IHS and the River of Life Mission.
"I am very grateful to get back to my family," Vonner said.
Tisha Woytenko, executive director of Help the Hawaii Homeless, coordinated Vonner’s Alaska Airlines flight, which leaves at 8:10 a.m. today.
Since Mizuno provided $100 to send Gregory Reese Jr. back home to Seattle in July, Woytenko now has a waiting list of 25 homeless people wanting plane tickets back to the mainland.
"The homeless on our wait list are like George, sincerely wanting to be reunited with their loved ones," Woytenko said.
Last night, before boarding his flight home, Vonner planned to spend one last evening sleeping in his cardboard box next to his friends.