Earlier this month, we swept another houseless encampment — this time from Kakaako Waterfront Park. By almost all accounts, and certainly from city and state representatives, this was a positive, necessary and overdue action.
I visited the park twice on Saturday Oct. 7 and Monday Oct. 9 with some friends, talking with my fellow citizens camping there, and seeing if there were ways to help. I have a very different take on what happened:
In “sweeping” some 180-plus other humans away — including many families with young keiki — without providing them a stable, safe place to transition to, we continue to reinforce the cycle of poverty, make our houseless neighbors once again more vulnerable, and we give our elected officials and ourselves a false sense of justice and accomplishment.
Sadly, all the resources we spend on renovating and policing the park will eventually be for naught unless we either start to honestly and seriously address the root problems of house-lessness or create a police state, constantly patrolling our public parks and spaces.
Outreach workers and state sheriffs arrive at Kakaako Waterfront Park on Oct. 8 before a sweep, to let homeless campers know about available housing and social services.
Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat
I completely admit that the park is in bad shape. Yes, there are broken lights, water lines and toilets, dogs off of leashes and garbage strewn about — and nearly 200 people were living there. It was certainly not inviting.
But, the answer was not to kick everyone out without having a solid plan to help them to another relatively safe, stable place. That’s not how we should treat other humans.
Let’s be clear: If you are houseless, our state and city parks are some of the safest, supportive places to be. They provide access to clean water, bathrooms and a measure of safety because of lighting and the ability to gather in numbers. The more isolated one is, the more vulnerable to predation one is.
So, when we “sweep” people, where do we expect them to go?
No Way To Live Aloha
Let us also be clear that with the huge lack of affordable housing, shelters are not the answer for many because they offer only temporary respite.
I spoke with a three-generation ohana from Chuuk — they have been to shelters multiple times and every time their stay was up there was no affordable housing to transition into. They left Saturday, before the “sweep,” but had no idea of where to go next.
It took a lot to look their three toddlers in the eyes and not cry — they are growing up traumatized and we will all, especially them, reap the results of our collective short-sightedness and lack of courage and compassion.
When we “sweep” people, where do we expect them to go?
It should be deeply disturbing to everyone who considers aloha to be our bedrock and gift to the world that we are instilling a new societal paradigm here: If you cannot afford the minimum costs to live here, then this is not, cannot be, your home — even if you were born and raised here, even if you’re willing to work, or already are.
If aloha means that we take care of our fellow citizens, then we are, through the actions of our government, with our consent, systematically and subversively destroying the aloha spirit.
I strongly recommend we experiment with creating safe zones. They are not a magic bullet, but created appropriately, they can provide temporary, but stable, humane living areas for those of us not able to meet the financial challenges of living in one of the most expensive places in the country.
If we are truly a people of aloha, then we must all step up to address this challenge, for to be at de facto war with our fellow citizens is no way to live in the aloha state. And, this challenge isn’t going away any time soon.
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