During my various stays in Hawaii I have become acutely aware of the homeless situation in Paradise. On a number of occasions an extremely friendly person would come up and start talking to me and then ask for money. I have sometimes given the person a little money or some food that I might have been carrying home from a restaurant’s meal. One time when I declined to give one guy some money he became very agitated and shouted it was clear that I was a tourist and tourists don’t leave home without money so I was lying! Luckily my bus pulled up at that moment and I virtually sprang up into it and away from his tirade! These interactions with Hawaii’s homeless have caused me to reflect upon the issue in a way I never did before.
Consider the role of fear in the life of a homeless person. At the heart of homelessness is the issue of vulnerability which gives rise to fear of others, fear of the police, fear of becoming ill, fear of old age’s helplessness, fear of the occasional “sweeps” which casts them adrift again as well as bereft of their few possessions. When fear turns itself outward it manifests itself as anger at themselves, at life, at society, at God. The experience of the homeless is their position in life is now that of a non-person. There can be many reasons why someone ends up in homeless. Yes, some of them have mental issues which cause them problems but not all homeless are flat-out crazy, drug-riddled or irresponsible. Many of the homeless, especially those with children, find that they simply cannot bring in enough income for food and medicine for the kids as well as rent, electricity, etc. It is a manifestation of their integrity that some homeless parents continue to struggle to provide for their children even when the money has run out! When you become homeless you don’t stop being yourself! As far as circumstances will allow if you were a responsible person previously then you will still be responsible!
What is our reaction to homelessness? Governor Abercrombie has asked that people stop feeding the homeless in the parks. Some parks in Hawaii are now being closed at night and forcing the homeless to go on the move again and again. But go on the move to where? The homeless are not an idea which disappears when you stop thinking about it! If they are driven out of one place then they have to go to another place! These measures that simply scatter the homeless… are they the right ones? Are they even ultimately effective? At least the homeless in Hawaii don’t have to deal with the possibility of being frozen to death in the morning but even in a Paradise as temperate as Hawaii it is all too possible for people’s hearts to become frozen toward one another. I have no answers to this complex issue… only thoughts.