Free plane ticket to Texas for homeless woman in Waikiki

Published: May. 10, 2011 at 1:23 AM HST|Updated: May. 10, 2011 at 2:06 PM HST
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Yughette Baker
Yughette Baker
Cheryl Walter, on the left
Cheryl Walter, on the left
Tisha Woytenko
Tisha Woytenko
Rep. John Mizuno
Rep. John Mizuno

WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - A woman who wound up homeless in Hawaii will head back to Texas with her mother on Tuesday. Yughette Baker's free plane ticket was a gift from strangers. Cheryl Walter traveled nearly 4,000 miles to bring her mentally ill daughter home. Walter booked a round-trip flight for herself, but discovered she couldn't afford a ticket for her daughter who suffers from schizophrenia. Baker left their home in Texas last July. Three months later, police found her living in the streets of Waikiki.

"I ran checks on her and she was reported missing in Texas," said Officer Erick Tanuvasa of the Honolulu Police Department.

"Officer Erick called me and told me he had found her on the beach. He wanted me to talk to her and she didn't know who I was," recalled Walter.

Walter said Baker probably bought a ticket to Hawaii using money she earned from her job at the sheriff's department.

"I presume that she was getting stuff out of the trash and doing all kind of stuff because she didn't even know where she was or how she got here," said Walter.

Baker, 32, refused to return to Houston and also turned down other offers of help.

"I'm disabled myself and so I was like I can't go get her, I don't know what I'm gonna do. So finally I just took the little money I had and came down to get her," said Walter.

Walter arrived a week ago. She got her daughter back on medication, but she didn't have enough money to pay for Baker's $787 plane ticket. Walter also needed another $150 for the fee to change her own return flight. The non-profit group Help the Hawaii Homeless put out a public plea.

"We got an anonymous donor of a husband and wife that wanted to cover the whole cost of both Cheryl's change fee and Yughette's flight back home," said executive director Tisha Woytenko.

Rep. John Mizuno donated $100 of his personal money. Board members of Help the Homeless Hawaii also donated $50. The money will be used to pay for baggage fees and meals.

"My mom's got my ticket. She got my ticket so we're leaving," said Baker.

"I thank God and all the people in Hawaii and the anonymous lady and her husband, I thank you very much," said Walter.

State lawmakers just rejected a bill to help homeless people return to their home state if a support network is available.

"If we use this $50,000, we would probably save the state over half a million, close to a million dollars," said Mizuno.

Critics worry the problem would be pushed to another state or that more homeless might come here if they knew they could get a free trip home.

"I think those are legitimate concerns and I certainly would have been among those who would have thought that at first, but after listening to others who advocate a different position, I think that with the proper safeguards that out of compassion, it would be appropriate to assist them," said Hawaii's homeless coordinator Marc Alexander.

Alexander said the state is focusing on other priorities given the limited funds.

Copyright Hawaii News Now 2011. All rights reserved.