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Na Mea Pono: Aunty Blanche gives hope to Waimanalo's homeless community

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Na Mea Pono: Aunty Blanche gives hope to Waimanalo's homeless community

Aunty Blanche Kahalewai McMillan's heart has always been for Waimanalo.

Born and raised in God's country, the lifelong resident has made it her goal to help Native Hawaiians not only survive, but thrive.

"I am God's instrument," she said. "I'm teaching them what is love. And I teach him what is 'ohana -- a family -- and they are my family."

Aunty Blanche knows all too well the plight of Hawaiians in her tight-knit hometown, with many of her people enduring years of economic hardship, not able to earn living wages or purchase homes in their birthplace. Many of them live in parks, beaches and even on sidewalks.

And McMillan made it her mission to give them a home ... right in her backyard.

When COVID hit, she took it upon herself to canvas the Windward coast for anyone who needed help. With volunteers, she built a homeless encampment on seven acres of vacant land on 'Olu'olu Street.

Maliepo Sitani is on the receiving end of McMillan's help.

"Aunty Blanche, she opened up her arms to us," he said. "She just does the best for everybody, gives everybody chances, takes them off the beach, helps them out." 

Jocelyn Fujita and her family of ten were previously living on the streets for about a year and a half. They moved to the encampment last August. Fujita met McMillan through her efforts feeding the homeless.

 "She was .. walking the walk, you know what I mean," she said. "And she's like, 'just come, just come let's go.' And I was like serious? She's like yeah just come so we packed all our stuff immediately and we came here and we set it up and we were there that night that she said let's go and we were here ever since." 

McMillan fought hard to lease the vacant parcel of state-owned land behind her family home, but ultimately didn't get the lease. 

But that didn't stop her.

Even through the pandemic, she remained steadfast in her mission of taking care of her people. She works with nonprofits, church groups and other community members to keep the more than 60 people living at Hui Mahiai 'Aina off the streets and free of disease. 

McMillan makes sure everyone in the encampment is regularly tested for COVID and all who are eligible are vaccinated.

"Her love is like cornerstone for all of us," Fujita said.

And the first building block to a better future.

Produced in partnership with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

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