Titus Thomas is a friendly guy. He has a soft voice and a clear, open gaze. He’s likeable in a cuddly sort of way. And he is one of the most determined men I’ve had the pleasure to meet.
I met Titus through Family Promise of Hawaii, an excellent program that helps homeless families with children make the transition to what it calls “sustainable” independence.
Titus works very hard to be in the program, which has a specific set of guidelines:
Adult family members must be willing to work, attend school and actively look for employment or attend some sort of job training.
They have to be flexible enough to move and adapt to different “host sites” during the course of the three-to-four month contract.
They have to be highly motivated to make positive changes in their lives.
Titus is quite determined to be on his own before his three-month contract is up, and he’s planning accordingly.
“We got our income tax and we calculated, and seems like we’ll be moving out before three months.”
I believe he’ll do it.
Titus and his family are from the Republic of the Marshall Islands — and as a Micronesian in Hawaii, he understands the bad rap his people have in the Islands.
I myself have heard Micronesians described as “lazy” and “leeches” on the system. I get angry when I hear that — especially after meeting and getting to know people like Titus.
Titus always has always been a hard worker. When he brought over his family from the Marshall Islands, it was because he had a very clear goal.
“I wanted my kids to get a better education,” he says.
He has four children, and he didn’t want them going to school in the Marshall Islands where, he says, the quality of education is very low. His oldest boy had a very hard time getting up to speed when they enrolled him in school here.
In fact, the move wasn’t easy for any of them. For years after coming to Hawaii, Titus worked two jobs in the food-service industry seven days a week. He earned about $12 an hour, taking home about $2,000 a month. His wife, who works as a housecleaner, earns minimum wage. For a long time they were OK despite their relatively low wages. Their combined incomes were enough to keep them clothed, sheltered and fed.
After a rocky start, their oldest son and a daughter graduated from high school. Their 17-year-old and 10-year-old are doing well in local schools.
It looked as if their persistence and hard work were paying off. What could possibly go wrong?
Titus got injured.
Both his jobs required heavy lifting, and one day he tore the rotator cuff in his shoulder. The pain was immediate and excruciating.
Somehow, in the painful haze of that first week, and because of Titus’s own misunderstanding of how to file proper paperwork, his employer refused to sign off on the injury.
It took 10 months to get it all straight — 10 months during which his temporary disability benefits ran out and he was without an income. By the time the company finally acknowledged his injury and his insurance was approved, Titus and his family were homeless.
The check Titus now gets from the insurance covers only about 60 percent of his former income. But he finally was able to get the surgery he needed.
He also manages to put a chunk of money into savings every month. He’s well on his way to getting back the independence he craves.
Even after he heals completely, Titus won’t be able to go back to his old, physically demanding job. But he has no doubt he will work again, especially with the help and support of the good people at Family Promise.
I have a great feeling about Titus. I can see he has the attitude and the strength of character to make it out of the financial abyss.
And besides, he has two more children to get through school.
“That’s my goal,” he says with a soft, steely smile, “That’s the most important thing for me. Getting my kids educated.”
How to contact Family Promise: Honolulu 548-7478; Windward 261-7478.
For more of my MidWeek columns, go to http://www.midweek.com/ and click on the Moonlighting link.