Krystle and Levi Otholt were living out of their van with two young children when they found out she was pregnant last year, and their stress level jumped through the roof. It was rough raising kids on the streets, but an infant would make it even harder.
They redoubled their efforts to search for a place to live, and then they discovered Family Promise of Hawai’i. The nonprofit program provides temporary shelter and strategies to help families find their way into a home. There wasn’t anything available when they applied last summer, but they didn’t give up hope.
"We just kept praying about it every day for God to please help us find a place, please help us to get off the streets," Krystle Otholt said. "Sure enough, in a couple of months they had an opening; and that’s how we got into the apartment."
This will be the first Christmas in almost three years they can celebrate the holiday in an actual home, and while that is a gift in itself, their most fervent wish is for a regular babysitter so she can work more hours, Otholt said.
Helping Hands Hawai’i tries to brighten the lives of struggling families like the Otholts during the holidays through its Adopt A Family program. It’s supported by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s annual Good Neighbor Fund to provide a special Christmas dinner, needed items and a few extras from Santa. Readers may "adopt" or designate which family receives their donations. Information is available above on donating clothes, household and other items, or making monetary contributions.
"I grew up on the streets," Otholt said. "I know what the life is like. For our kids, I did not want that. Thank the Lord that our kids are not picky and don’t ask for much. Our famous saying is: You get what you get, and you don’t have a fit!"
When she asked her stepdaughter and son, both 6, what they wanted for Christmas, instead of excitedly naming the latest gadgets, they both answered, "I don’t know, it doesn’t matter to me," she said. "Growing up on the streets, even if it’s just for a few years, they’ve learned to be happy with what they have. They’re really not picky at all."
She added, "The way I grew up, it was like — whatever."
Her mother had a substance addiction, she said, and wasn’t motivated to better their lives. Also, a homeless person doesn’t have an address to put on a job application or other background references, she said. Family Promise arranges shelter at different churches each week, and assists with online resumes, job applications, employment opportunities and a rent-subsidy program.
Most important, "they’re going to push you to save as much money as you can" until people are able to afford to live independently, Otholt said. That’s why getting a regular babysitter is so important, as it would enable her to work full-time. The couple can’t afford child care, and the two have to juggle their work schedules to babysit or pick up the older kids from school. Levi Otholt’s parents watch the kids in a pinch.
"If you don’t have a strong backbone to help you through this, someone positive, it’s even harder. My husband is my backbone. Without him I’d simply be lost. He keeps me on the straight and narrow," Otholt said.
The couple initially became homeless when they couldn’t afford to pay rent while trying to pay up to $10,000 in legal fees to fight for custody of his daughter, Lily, four years ago. Her husband has always had a strong faith in God, regularly attends church, and is always encouraging her to "put your worries in his hand": "Just pray and leave everything in God’s hands. If it’s God’s will to get off the streets or to have his daughter, for anything to happen, he will provide somehow, he will find a way for us."
THE GOOD NEIGHBOR FUND
Clothing, household items and gifts can be dropped off until Dec. 19 at the Community Clearinghouse, 2100 N. Nimitz Highway in Kalihi on the corner of Puuhale Road and Nimitz.
Monetary gifts may be sent to the Star-Advertiser’s Good Neighbor Fund; c/o Helping Hands Hawai’i; 2100 N. Nimitz Highway, Honolulu, HI 96819.
Checks made out to the Good Neighbor Fund also may be dropped off at any of First Hawaiian Bank’s branches statewide.
Call 440-3800 for more information, to sign up for the Adopt A Family Program or to arrange for pickup of large items.
Helping Hands Hawaii’s donation warehouse hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday. Hours will be extended to 6:30 p.m. beginning Nov. 27. The warehouse will also be open from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays starting Nov. 28, through Dec. 22.