Going home: Advocate, police help homeless man, 70, reunite with family

  • Regina Weller

  • Rex poses for a photo with American Airlines flight crew Rita Skinner-Cullumber, left and Debbie Henry. (Courtesy photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

A 70-year-old homeless man has been reunited with his family on the mainland thanks to the efforts of an advocate and Hawaii Police Department community policing officers.

The man, Rex, boarded an American Airlines flight from Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole on Oct. 3 to make his way to Oregon, said Regina Weller, executive director of the nonprofit 808 Homeless Task Force.


“Rex came here in January 2022. He lived in a small town, an artist’s colony in Oregon for many years, 50 miles outside of Eugene, Oregon,” said Weller. “He would make crafts and sculptures and market them.”

In 2018, his house burned down to the ground.

“’It was my fault,’” Weller recounted of the man’s story. “’The welding torch slipped out of my hands and hit the oak floors. I lost everything.’”

In the fire’s wake, Rex became frustrated and depressed because the insurance wouldn’t cover his loss. After that came homelessness. He started wandering, living on a small Social Security check, which could not cover both rent and food.

He sought a warmer climate and shortly after arriving in Kona, his phone, ID and belongings were stolen and his Social Security stopped. He then experienced a stroke that affected his speech and ability to walk properly, and left him with “brain fog,” Weller said. He survived off money given to him by passersby and when he met Weller he told her he hadn’t had a shower in many months.

“We encountered him on many occasions sleeping on our streets, mostly on Alii Drive and the Hale Halawai area,” said Officer Wyatt Nahale. “He has always been courteous and respectful.”

Community Policing Officer Dwayne Sluss called Weller seeking assistance for Rex after the homeless man indicated he wanted to return to his hometown.

“Our organization has formulated a ‘Rapid Aloha’ network of willing resources who engage quickly to meet the need,” said Weller. “The plan was on and we tried to move him swiftly before he got lost in the shuffle of the Ironman parade and events. Rex told me ‘I know my house is no longer there, but I’ve had a long time to think, and my heart is still there and it’s where I have strong ties. I want to go home.’”

Contact was made with people in his hometown and Weller’s organization purchased clothing and baggage for his trip.

“His life had taken a bad turn, and our response team put him back on track, with renewed hope and a vision for himself,” said Weller. “Special thanks to Officers Sluss and Nahale who quickly acquired the travel permit, and Justin of TSA who assisted Rex from the curb through TSA, Bryce of YWAM who got his new phone running, and the wonderful stewardesses of American Airlines.”

Weller said Rex has a plan to follow upon his arrival in Oregon that included a prepaid card for a motel in Eugene for a day and a bus ride to his town.

“He told me that when he returns to Oregon he’s going to continue a business adventure as a manufacturer and one day return here to take us out to dinner,” said Nahale.

808 Homeless Task Force receives county grants for its programs, and recently applied for a state grant for the first time.

“We’ve also purchased used cars for motivated homeless families to pursue employment, which has greatly improved their livelihood and financial status,” said Weller. “We would appreciate vehicle donations and money donations from the public to continue our successful rapid aloha programs.”

Donations to support Weller’s efforts can be made through their website 808homelesstaskforce.org

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