On Christmas Shopping, The Homeless And Tough Love

While out Christmas shopping with my wife on Sunday morning, we drove past a solitary homeless man sitting quietly in the shadows beneath the freeway along Nimitz.  I wondered who he was, what he was thinking, what his life must be like and why he just sat there in his own silence engulfed in the noise and exhaust of a seemingly endless stream of cars and traffic.

Seems like a world gone awry as I joined the throngs stuck in holiday traffic, shuffling from store to store seeking Christmas gift bargains, in line with so many others struggling to decide between a Kindle or a Nook, or choosing between Lancome or Chanel.   We covered much of the island that day and in the process drove by so many others in so many other lines – lines of makeshift tents on hard sidewalks because it is against the law to sleep 5 feet away on the soft grass in the park, lines waiting for a hot meal and a dry safe place to sleep, lines of crouched figures huddled in doorways to get out of the rain.

While I spent my weekend determined to assemble an array of suitable gifts for family members and close friends, I can only think today of that man under the freeway and of all the others we passed by that day.

Yes, I feel badly and sad at the situation faced by my fellow human beings and will attempt to assuage these feelings by making a donation to a worthy nonprofit and perhaps volunteer at the homeless shelter in which I have helped in the past.  But of course this is not enough.

The condition of the homeless in our community is a reflection of us and who we are.

While many good people with a high and noble intent are trying their best, our community response in dealing with the homeless issue is woefully inadequate.  While most of us with homes, jobs and families profess sadness and sympathy for the disadvantaged, those feelings easily pivot toward outrage and indignation.  Our genteel sensibilities are offended by the sight and smell of poverty, mental illness and addiction.  God forbid that our children or our visitors from the mainland should be exposed to such ugliness.

Our first reaction is to clear them from the parks.  We want to be able to throw Frisbee, barbeque our burgers and take our early morning and late afternoon jogs without the inconvenience, the unsightliness and the fear that sometimes comes with being in close proximity to the mentally ill and others who lack contemporary social skills and whose personal hygiene may be inadequate.

We have more or less successfully cleared our parks of the homeless and now are determined to sweep the remaining stragglers off our streets and into the shelters where they belong.  We have done our best to criminalize the poor and mentally ill by banning from public places first their shopping carts, then their tents and now virtually all of their personal belongings.

Push them into the shelters seems to be the mantra.  Do not feed the homeless.  Make them go to the shelters if they want to eat.  This is tough love.  Withhold the feedings, send police to dismantle their camps, take away and destroy their personal items and make them go into the shelters where they can be fed, monitored, cared for, and warehoused properly.

Put them away for their own good and so we don’t have to look at them anymore.

I am hoping that this is not the case and that there is more.  I am hoping that both the public and the private sector will step up to the plate and provide for dramatically increased mental health services.  I am hoping that government, landowners and developers will create and build affordable housing that is accessible to all and that our State, City and Federal government strengthens the social safety net while increasing employment and rebuilding core public infrastructure.

I am hopeful but not optimistic, so therefore I am angry.

 

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About garyhooser

This blog represents my thoughts as an individual person. I presently serve now as a volunteer President of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (H.A.P.A.) www.hapahi.org In a past life I was an elected member of the Kauai County Council, a Hawaii State Senator and Majority Leader and the Director of Environmental Quality Control for the State of Hawaii - in an even earlier incarnation I was an entrepreneur and small business owner. Yes, I am one of the luckiest guys on the planet. “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We’re afraid.” “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We will fall!” “Come to the edge.” And they came. And he pushed them. And they flew. - Christopher Logue (b.1926)
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8 Responses to On Christmas Shopping, The Homeless And Tough Love

  1. lee says:

    Gary,
    That was a decent share on the situation and I wonder if the ABercrombies, Hanabusaʻs, Machadoʻs and the rest of them ever even have a secondʻs thought on the subject other than how they can profit. Or maybe some do around the holidays.
    You said…”building…” building affordables, shelters, whatever. NO to that.
    That is the problem: BUILDING. Too much building has created the nightmare. And those that would be contracted to build ʻsheltersʻ are foaming at the mouth for their cut.
    What is most deplorable about this is when it is kanaka maoli. On their own land.
    IF you really want to see a solution, maybe you would offer some sit down time with Henry Noa to see if there is anything you could assist with. He is far above most in the critical thinking department.

  2. Raymond and Ramona Primicias says:

    I am in the car right now reading the newspaper at the Foodbank waiting for my husband. He cooks for and feed at the Next Step Shelter and River of Life. I would like to thank you for writing this article….finally someone gets it. We can be homeless too. I am struggling with breast cancer. People that are homeless just made wrong decisions in their lives or are affected by the economy and circumstances beyond their control. We can not solve that but they deserve a hot meal at least. I too am angry!

  3. Ian says:

    I think part of the solution is to provide access to services without requiring presence at the shelters. If I were homeless I wouldn’t want to be confined to a shelter, but I would sure appreciate a safe place to clean up and have a meal without fear of harassment. There’s got to be a way to provide that with reasonable time restrictions and it would really help that large number of homeless who will just not stay in shelters. Then we can focus on a smaller affordable housing solution for the rest.

  4. until we ask the homeless what they want and need and provide that and stop looking for a “top down” solution we will never get anywhere … we cannot sit in our homes, eating our meals, working our jobs and think we have the answers when we have not taken the time to ask those on the streets what they need … and doing the same things that have been done for decades is not the answer …

  5. Michael Kramer says:

    Gary,

    If we use public land, we can take that aspect of housing prices away, reducing the cost of affordable housing even further. It’s either that or more shelters, but shelters are only designed to be temporary.

    • lee says:

      This is so wrong. Since when does using public land reduce “the cost of affordable housing even further”? Thatʻs a crock but it is used nevertheless to get development moving.
      BTW, those “public lands” are not just idly sitting by waiting for someone to use them. Those public lands are of a trust, firstly for the Native Hawaiians.
      So before we get all over ourselves making decisions to use public land (that the beneficiaries have not even had a chance to enjoy) to develop housing for military families, homeless people arriving in hoards from the states because itʻs warm here, developers that see the easy opportunity to profit, etc itʻs a misperception that the lands are ʻpublicʻ..

  6. Mark says:

    The homeless issue is complex. A cookie cutter one size fits all approach is not the proper solution. There are different types of homeless people. For the foreigners and the mainlanders, we should send them back to where they’ve come from. For the mentally ill, we should get them into a health facility for mental health care. For the veteran, we should have the VA help out. For the kamaina family who just lost their house, we should help them get a job. Everyone has a different story but yet so many of us are just a medical tragedy away from being homeless. Getting them off the streets is the first step. But let’s do it with compassion and Aloha.

  7. I have a not for profit: songsofthechildren.org….I agree with Larry. (above) I was homeless for 13 years, (Vietnam Vet) The help that is needed is out there. But, after 17 years of helping the homeless and the veterans, I have found that my best work was done by just going one on one with them. I have had resluts that you wouldn’t believe I recently spoke to the new, “Czar,” the Gov.
    hired. He is willing to talk to me, but, after he helps the, “Big Non Profits.”
    I have given out thousands of dollars to those in need. I only say this because, when I ask the Goverment for help, they refuse if it isn’t to their benefit. I’m tired of asking them for help.
    So, from now on I will ask church memebers and the public only for help.
    I plan to have the following sign:
    “Welcome Homeless and Veterans”
    “Talk Story,” with Brother Bob over “Coffee & Donuts.”
    From 6:30 a.m…. until the last man/women leaves.
    I want to set up places around the Island where the homeless, “Hang.”
    All it takes is a card table and time. There are many people who have time today because of what is going on in this country. I will find all the coffee pots and ask Safeway to donate the donuts. (Or I’ll get everything needed myself)
    Will the Goverment support me on this and provide funding? “Are you nut’s? The Goverment can’t make money on donuts.”
    If you want to help or think this is a good idea, let me know at:
    Songs of the Children………..songsofthechildren,org
    Brother Bob

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