By Rich Figel
PROGRAM ALERT: The new June episode of Career Changers TV premieres Thurs., 7:30 PM on OC16 (channel 12/high def 1012) and will feature segments on the Hawaiian Mission Houses, Cemetery Pupu Theater, Kakaako Farmers Market/Coffee Festival, and a positive story about human trafficking victims who are rebuilding their lives in Hawaii. For details and daily viewing times, please visit www.CareerChangers.TV. You can also watch segments from past and present shows on the CCTV YouTube Channel.
Before I get to the final installment of my rambling, meandering blog trip through Downtown Honolulu's past via the Honolulu Exposed Red Light Tour, I wanted to comment on recent comments the past week or two in regards to present day Chinatown. It seems we have reached a tipping point. The local media, including the Star-Advertiser, have stepped up their coverage of the homeless problem. Mayor Kirk Caldwell has publicly gone on the offensive. Residents and tourists are writing letters to the editor, or posting online responses to news articles and op-ed pieces. All of which is a good start for a call to action.
However, I need to get some things off my chest... things that probably bug some of you out there. First, let's not quibble over political correctness when referring to homeless people. I had a friend tell me he was shopping in Chinatown, and after being accosted by a homeless woman in front of the store, he mentioned to the sales person inside that the "homeless" person was bothering passersby outside. The clerk became indignant and told him, "She's not homeless -- she's houseless. I used to be one of them!" I'm happy this clerk found a job and got off the streets, but do we really need to get into arguments about what to call them? As a recovering alcoholic, I had to admit I was a drunk who needed help before I could get better. In rehab, addicts and alkys don't sugar-coat who we are by putting nicer labels on ourselves. So let's get real about the problem of poop and piss and stink on our streets, and in our public parks.
Secondly, stop bemoaning the "lack of leadership" by the Mayor. One person can only do so much, especially if they get no help from above -- where's the Governor in all this, or the State Legislature? -- or little support from the Honolulu City Council. They cut the Mayor's funding requests on the grounds that they disagree with specific priorities outlined by Caldwell, and worry there's not enough money in the budget to cover it. Really? Have they figured out the cost of NOT taking action? Have they calculated the loss of tax revenue from businesses that are hurting because residents and visitors alike steer clear of Chinatown or Waikiki because of the swelling homeless population?
We are talking about triage. Stop the bleeding now, do what it takes to show some tangible results as quickly as possible. When a hurricane hits or your house is on fire, you don't stop and say, well, given our current financial projections, let's calculate what we can afford to do to put out the fire or house those who were displaced by the flooding. You provide for the people who are impacted, and deal with the bills later. Nobody is telling the City Council to write a blank check. But they need to get off their butts, and do something NOW instead of dickering around with numbers while people are hurting, and our image as a world-famous visitor destination continues to suffer.
Lastly, no one owns the moral high ground on this. There are a lot of well-meaning folks who write letters and post blog comments that lambaste anyone who suggests some of the homeless are just lazy bums, drunks or drug addicts, or insolent rule-breakers who refuse to cooperate with authorities. The truth is many are homeless due to unfortunate circumstances. And many get there by making bad choices. God knows, had it not been for my company's health insurance plan, I might not have gotten into rehab and I could have wound up on the streets myself. I also know there are many people who are barely making ends meet, and are one or two paychecks away (or a single medical emergency) from facing the prospects of losing their home... so if they show little patience for those who put the blame on the high cost of housing in Hawaii, cut them some slack. We're all in that same boat.
It reminds me of a book I have mentioned before called "How To Be Good" by Nick Hornby. It's about decent people who begin to question just how "good" they really are as Christians and liberal-minded progressive types. The husband, who had been a cynical, cranky newspaper columnist, meets a New Age guru of sorts, and has an epiphany: instead of merely talking the talk, why don't they walk the walk and take in the homeless? Instead of being hypocrites, who look the other way and ignore the problem, why not share your house with these poor, down-on-their-luck souls? Maybe that's all they need -- a helping hand and support from caring people like yourself. Of course, his experiment in social engineering doesn't quite pan out as planned because the homeless have a myriad of issues, just as each and every one of us do.
So ask yourself, how far would you go to help the homeless? Online petitions, Facebook/Twitter reposts, letters to the editor, a donation here or there... nothing wrong with any of that. But unless you're literally willing to open your own home to the homeless, I'd say most of us fall far short of being the models of enlightened civility we like to imagine ourselves to be. At least, I know I do.