WAIANAE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Abbi Eli, her husband Elton, and their 12 children lived in a homeless camp in Waianae for two months this summer -- not by need but by choice.
"I wanted my children to experience what it's like to live like the homeless and for them to understand that they're just people," Abbi Eli said.
In May, the Eli's temporarily moved out of their house and into the Puuhonua O Waianae Village near the Waianae Boat Harbor. They asked residents for permission to do so.
"At first I thought that they were going to think that I was playing some kind of game, belittling them by asking I can stay with them. But they didn't. In fact the very first time we got there they were just so amazed that I would be even willing to do that," Eli said.
The family got to know the homeless campers in ways only living there would reveal.
A one-month commitment became a two-month stay -- and an education for the entire family.
Elton Eli was actually homeless for a time and for him, "it took me back to when my family spent a month at Keaau's. And it was a struggle."
During their two months at the homeless village, the Elis built shelters and makeshift showers. They fished for food and planted a garden. They shared what they had and learned to respect their homeless neighbors.
"Even though they knew that we really didn't live there they still treated us like we lived there," 13-year-old Tiara said.
Daughter Sophia added, "Now that I know them a bit better I think that I would stand up if someone was teasing the homeless."
Abbi Eli is a licensed minister, so she did some counseling at the camp, too.
"She is a big blessing in a big huge way here. She did leave an impression with us, especially with our kids," village leader Twinkle Borge said.
The Elis are now back in their home. But they often visit the Waianae camp.
And Abbi Eli's putting together school supplies for the children there.
"There's something very special about that place. There's something special about all of them there. They've captivated my heart," she said.
Some may think the Elis were foolish -- even reckless -- for taking their kids into a homeless camp.
They think the experience was well worth it.