It took an island and Congresswoman Gabbard
You may know Paul Fingers. In the 1970s, he made and sold bouquets of flowers on Front Street in Lahaina. He lived in his camper truck; otherwise he was homeless. He was, and still is, friendly and very upbeat about life.
In the 1990s, Fingers, a Navy veteran, moved Upcountry. For many years, with permission, he parked his truck on a property just off Thompson Road in Keokea. The property is owned by the United Church of Christ, historically known as the Congregational Church that sent the first Christian missionaries to the islands in the early part of the 1800s.
Once Fingers’ truck was parked, it was never moved again. He used it for storage after he built a substantial open air shed, where he set up a tent for sleeping. For years he supported himself doing yard work. Some of his clients were members of St. John’s Episcopal Church, not far from where his truck was parked.
Fingers attended services there, and at many church events, he played his guitar or ukulele with consummate skill – to the delight of the parishioners.
That’s where Fingers met Keith McCrary, whose friendship has made all the difference in his life.
“Last summer, things changed,” said McCrary. “Fingers had a stroke and was admitted to Maui Memorial Medical Center. Because he had served in the military, the hospital staff felt confident his bill would be paid by Medicaid. However, this was easier thought than done.”
Fingers had no actual proof of his identity. He had given himself his last name Fingers, but his original last name is Martin.
“In his years as a homeless person, he lost his Social Security Card and his birth certificate, nor did he have proof that he was in the military,” McCrary explained.
“The social workers at the hospital worked diligently to get his identification but kept coming up against bureaucratic stone walls.”
After two-and-a-half months, Fingers-Martin was dismissed from the hospital – still homeless. At this point, a number of people besides McCrary stepped up to help.
Through the connection with St. John’s, the priest in charge, the Rev. Kerith Harding, provided funds for Fingers-Martin, enabling him to stay at a hostel in Wailuku.
Other church members and friends donated money for his support as well.
Through Sarah Shim at Kaunoa Senior Center, Meals on Wheels delivered food. Vicki Belluomini, a social worker with the Council on Aging, aided in getting weekend meals for Fingers-Martin. She and her supervisor arranged for funds to aid in paying the rent at the hostel.
Will Navran, a friend of Fingers-Martin since 1995, sent out an e-mail through Haiku Helen’s network asking for people to visit him and to donate money for his support. “A number of people responded,” said Navran.
One particularly generous gift was from Dianne Lassen Winter, executive director of Sea Vision, a foundation started by her brother, West Maui artist Christian Riese Lassen.
When asked why she gave such a sum on Fingers-Martin’s behalf, Lassen Winter replied, “I listen to my heart, and his situation moved me. My involvement is why God put me on Earth.”
Trying to verify Fingers-Martin’s identity was the next objective. “Our chief goal was to qualify him to receive Medicaid, so he could be admitted to Kula Hospital as a long-term resident. That is actually where he wished to be,” said Navran, who took on the task of getting his birth certificate.
The main problem lay in the fact that Fingers-Martin was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1938. Old records there are hard to find. “In this case, we had to work through the U.S. State Department,” Navran explained, recalling that he had to submit his own ID with a letter stating that he was working on Fingers-Martin’s behalf.
Eventually, they received a birth certificate. However, because it was from Panama, it stated expressly that it was not proof of U.S. citizenship. Of course, one needs proof of citizenship to obtain a state ID, Social Security and related services.
“So, we had to prove that at least one of his parents was a U.S. citizen,” Navran continued.
During this period, Fingers-Martin had to be readmitted to Maui Memorial because of an enlarged prostate. McCrary, somewhat exasperated and discouraged, met with a social worker from the Council on Aging to reassess the situation. Having already taken Fingers-Martin to the Social Security office and Veterans Administration on numerous occasions, McCrary suggested that they get in touch with Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, herself a veteran.
With the help of Gabbard’s field agent, Jay King, Navran and McCrary were able to get a copy of Fingers-Martin’s father’s birth certificate, which proved that he is a U.S. citizen.
“Jay King was very helpful in expediting the process with the State Department and also with Social Security,” Navran said, noting the opportunity to help Fingers-Martin has been a blessing in his own life.
Navran recounted, “I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Keith McCrary when Fingers-Martin was getting discharged from Maui Memorial. We had no warning and no clue where he could go from there. Many others jumped in with donations and visits, and I am still amazed that all this came to a positive conclusion, since there were so many obstacles and hurdles to navigate along the way.”
Subsequently, the Maui Memorial caseworker for Fingers-Martin applied for him to be transferred to Kula Hospital. A few days later, he was there – right where he wanted to be. He is currently happy to receive visitors and talk story.
He is reading good books, listening to good music and is quite grateful to the many that helped him get there.