John and Athena Talley lost their jobs within weeks of each other in April, and after two months, had no choice but to move into a homeless shelter in Waianae with their three children.
It was a shock to the young couple, as they’d always worked hard, been conscientious parents, and made God “a central part of our lives,” John Talley said.
“For me it’s really depressing. I just see it like taking one step forward and 20 steps back. It’s just really surreal,” he said.
The family upgraded to a transitional shelter in July, where there’s a lot more privacy and space, but their job search continues. The children, ages 12, 9 and 7, are still expecting Christmas presents, but instead of buying them things, Athena Talley plans to take them to free community activities to get them into the spirit of the holiday, she said.
Because their relatives are also struggling to make ends meet, the Talleys aren’t asking anyone for financial help. But Star-Advertiser readers could bring a bit of Christmas cheer to this family or others trying to get back on their feet through Helping Hands Hawaii’s Adopt A Family Program. Our annual Good Neighbor Fund drive raises funds to support this program, which aims to brighten the lives of 600 families this year with a special Christmas dinner, needed items and a few extras from Santa.
Athena Talley was told she was out of a job on April Fool’s Day — “I thought it was a joke, but they were serious,” she said. Her husband and she had worked for the same Florida-based janitorial maintenance company, which laid off many employees after several of its contracts expired. Within a few weeks, John Talley, an area supervisor, was also out of a job, he said.
They couldn’t afford the rent on their apartment any more and had to move out at the end of May. The couple told their children why they needed to live in an emergency homeless shelter, but the two younger kids — son Elijah and daughter Miracle — didn’t quite understand what being homeless entailed. But eldest son Malachi “didn’t want to let anyone know that we lived in a homeless shelter” and avoided making new friends there, John said.
“It was rough at first,” with all of them confined to one room and having to share a communal bathroom with other residents, he said. The kids also had to switch schools in the middle of the school year, and John saw their grades drop.
Athena said the strain of the cramped, dingy quarters and living in close proximity to strangers at the emergency shelter added to their stress. With all the shelter’s rules, the kids were bothered by the loss of the freedom they had in their own home, she said.
Malachi didn’t want to shower in the men’s bathroom because he thought it was “always nasty,” so they allowed him to go with Athena into the women’s bathroom when everyone was gone, she said.
Being personally meticulous about hygiene, Athena had everyone wear slippers when they showered and was careful to remind her kids, “make sure nothing drops on the floor,” she said. Some of the residents weren’t as concerned about cleanliness as she, Athena said, and she didn’t want them to get used to sloppy standards.
The transitional shelter in Maili where they live now is “a lot better,” and they have their own bathroom.
The kids share one of the two bedrooms in the apartment, and “it’s a lot cleaner.” They had to let go of their furniture and household items when they lost their home, so “we’re pretty much starting from scratch,” she added.
Though John doesn’t mention his diabetes, Athena said her husband is constantly battling pain in his feet, and medication often doesn’t help. He needs to wear shoes made specifically for diabetics to avoid pressure on his toes, but often wears slippers instead. He can’t accept jobs that require standing for long periods or a lot of walking, but he’s put out many applications. Athena said she is interested in the food service industry, such as cooking in a school cafeteria.
John said his wife has been “more level-headed than me” in adjusting to all the difficulties they’ve had to face, repeatedly urging him, “Let’s move forward, or let’s pray about it, let’s think positive.” Their church, New Hope Kapolei, is helping them with food and “keeping our spirits high,” he said, adding, “I feel very positive that employment is right around the corner.”
For Christmas, the family could use some new clothes and shoes.