'Homeless Savior' Raises Eyebrows

In Hawaii, on the island of Oahu, where everyday seems picture perfect, venturing down the coastline you might come upon a beach that won't be found on any postcard.

It is the dark side of paradise, an obscure place where the homeless pitch tents and go about their lives out of sight from the lush playground that is Honolulu.

Hidden among this tropical tragedy are families and single mothers like Dorie-Ann Kahale. Until recently, Kahale and her daughters lived in relative obscurity, in a tent on the beach.

Kahale's life changed, however, when a flamboyant Japanese billionaire named Genshiro Kawamoto moved into town along with what seemed like a crazy idea. Kawamoto announced that he would pick a half dozen poor and homeless Hawaiian families and give each of them one of his multimillion-dollar Honolulu homes rent-free for at least ten years.

To win, families were asked to write letters. Kahale's was among the thousands that poured in. She typed her letter while at work at the local phone company.

…I am a mother of 6 children ranging from 21 to 6 years old. I have 1 son and 5 daughters and it brings deep tears in my eyes to see such opportunity like this.

…I am a hard working mother currently living in Kalaeloa Homeless Shelter.

…I do travel approximately 83 miles a day to and from work for the last 7 months. It's the good Lord that allows me to have enough gas to go and come to work.

…I am in the shelter because I was unable to pay the rent of $1200 a month from $800 when I first moved in.

Savior or Suspect?

Kawamoto is well known in Hawaii, but not for being generous. In actuality, the would be "homeless savior" is blamed by many for helping create the housing problem by driving up property values in the 1990s.

"What he used to do," said Mike Buck, a local radio host, "and this is really substantiated by lots and lots of people, is he'd drive around the areas, particularly the Hawaii Kai in the beginning, and he'd see a house that was either run-down or maybe not in real good condition and he just had this person go up to the door and say, 'Mr. Kawamoto thought he'd like to buy your house.' He paid cash for these houses and people were ecstatic, they made this big home run and off they went. And he bought hundreds of them."

Kawamoto became infamous for raising rent unexpectedly on his many properties and then evicting the tenants with little notice. But all of this was of little concern to Kahale as she mailed away the most important letter of her life.

True to his word, and much to the astonishment of the lucky few and his many doubters, one by one, Kawamoto handed over the keys to the first three houses.

Kahale's new $3 million home is free of charge except utilities. "I have to pinch myself every day to realize [this is] my home and the value of it," she said. "Chandeliers. Armoire. A beautiful TV set, surround sound. It's unbelievable."

And it isn't just any nice home. Each one that was given away is located in the exclusive oceanfront neighborhood of Kahala, known as the Beverly Hills of Hawaii.

From Shabby Tents to Oceanfront Mansions

To fully appreciate how mind boggling this is for Kahale, you need to understand where she's been. Kahale and her oldest daughter, Zandi, took "Nighline" back to the beach where they lived.

"As much as we tried, it seemed like we were getting nowhere. It felt like we were getting more down. And sleeping on the floor every night … It was bad," said Zandi. "When it rained, it's like you're sleeping in the bath tub or something. It poured on you all night. There was nothing we could do. We had no roof over our frickin' heads. It was a sad living."

The family also lived in a shelter -- a sweltering, crowded, dorm-like facility filled with kids. When she returned to the shelter to visit, Kahale couldn't deny feelings of guilt. "I once lived in their shoes, but I believe in God, that all things are possible, and it became possible for me."

Other shelter residents hope and pray for the day they can move out of the shelter. "I hope that I'll be one of them on the list, one day," said Roxanne Bustamante, a shelter resident, "because it's the help that I need. You know? And you know, I'm grateful for this building … but it's a place my family shouldn't be at. I mean, I want to call someplace a home, a home where I can come to."

Kahale has that home thanks to Kawamoto, but a nagging question is still the talk of the islands. Everyone wonders what Kawamoto is up to.

'There's Definitely Some Suspicion'

From talk radio to the streets of the upscale Kahala neighborhood, many believe Kawamoto is driven more by greed than generosity.

The leading theory is that he's moved poor people into his homes to lower property values there and create a buying opportunity for himself.

Richard Turbin is a member of a very worried neighborhood association. "Well, he is a person -- I mean, a person builds a legacy, builds a history. He's done some not such great things in the past. So you can't help but be suspicious."

After all, this neighborhood is accustomed to residents like the founder of Sony, among many other CEOs, doctors and lawyers.

"Well, I'd say there's definitely some suspicion, because of his track record," said Turbin. "On the other hand, you have to hope for the best in human nature. I mean, he's an older guy now, probably thinking about his legacy and if he can leave some positive legacy, we're hoping that's his motivation."

Real estate agents are also worried. Several said that they've already lost sales over the issue, and they fear it could get even worse, because Kowamoto owns roughly 20 multimillion-dollar homes in this neighborhood. His plans are to use some of them to help even more poor and homeless families.

'Time Is Going to Tell'

Buck has debated the issue for weeks on his radio show. In his view, if Kawamoto really wanted to help, he'd sell his homes and use the money to help lots of people, instead of a select few. "You can take the same dollar amount of money and buy 50 houses somewhere else and make 50 families happy instead of 11," said Buck.

"So you just sort of have to weigh the deal here and say, 'What is this guy trying to do?' and maybe he's just an eccentric old guy with lots and lots of money that is trying to do something right. But time is going to tell."

Kawamoto wasn't available for an interview with "Nightline," but says that his charitable actions speak for themselves. And Kahale has heard all the criticism, but from the comfort of her new home, she has faith.

"He did not bring us this far from the beaches, from the shelters, to put us back out there again," said Kahale. "He's seen the life that we lived in the shelter, and he knew I was sincere when I received keys. Crying, he shed a tear, too, and people said he does not shed tears. So I know he's sincere, just by that."

For Kahale and the other lucky families, her new home is paradise. And for the first time in a long time, the beach is just someplace to visit.