On all five of my trips to Hawaiʻi the homeless have been part of the “sights”. Unlike up North on the Mainland, Hawaiʻi’s climate makes it feasible for people to live on beaches year-round. As a result they invest in tents of all makes, sizes and styles. But the presence of tents is not confined to Hawaiʻi’s beaches. They are also present against fences on the sidewalks, real estate on which portable homes vie for space with foot traffic.
One could be blind and yet still know when passing these encampments on the sidewalks because there are various smells that assault the senses when passing by them, not all of which are pleasant. The sight of the tents and the assault of the smells have often made me wonder about the spiritual lives of the occupants of the tents. Apparently, living in Hawaiʻi does not make pain hurt any less.
On the television I once heard someone in great pain comment about his life, ”I am an adult now and supposed to be living my life, and I haven’t got a clue. I forgot to read the directions.” I would hazard a guess and say that at least some of the homeless in Hawaiʻi also feel that they haven’t got a clue about their lives or of how their choices lead them into tents on sidewalks. I realize that some are responsible but can’t make enough money to feed their kids and pay the rent. Life is like that nowadays for many people having to decide whether to get their medicines or to eat, and so they cut down on both.
But I have also heard some in the tents state that they shouldn’t have to pay rent to live on their own island. I can understand that sentiment and in fact agree that the Hawaiian nation was stolen from its people! But that was then and this is now, and it is in the “now” that we live, not in “then”. Reality and its demands can be a real pain in the ass but a manifestation of psychological, emotional and spiritual maturity is dealing with reality and not turning our back on the demands it makes of us. Sometimes, however, the presence of negative feelings can urge us to look elsewhere for more comforting short-term feelings… in drink, in drugs, in one-night stands, in excessive video gaming. There is the danger that comforting feelings may come out of acts of self-destructive behavior which takes us hostage, taking the direction of our life out of our hands.
So the homeless situation on Hawaiʻi’s beaches and sidewalks seems to me a complicated one: Hawaiʻi needs to (and to some extent does) reach out to its homeless children, and the homeless also need to reach out and respect those who do pay rent, who do make sacrifices to delay pleasurable choices until after the rent is paid. No matter where we are, even in paradise it is possible for us to make bad choices… and that’s just reality… which sometimes leads to tents.