Overcoming A ‘Homeless Attitude’
Wednesday - July 26, 2006
My recent column on the homeless situation in Hawaii generated a lot of passionate response from readers. What that shows me is that more people are paying attention, and more are being affected by what has in the past been considered a problem for “someone else.”
The first e-mail I received was from a man I’d met before. His name is Steve Tayama, and he reminded me that, many years ago, he himself was an advocate for the homeless. He worked for the Waikiki Health Center providing basic services to families living on beaches and in parks.
“I have been seeing this problem grow by leaps and bounds since I began working for the Care-A-Van project in the ‘80s. Even took you on a tour to see the houseless living in the caves at Waimea. They are still there, and under freeways and bridges, along river banks, and doubled and tripled up in homes all over the state.”
I remember the day I met Steve very well. My photographer and I watched as Tayama gave food and comfort to families living on or near the beach at Waimea. Then we followed him across the highway and scrambled up a hill on the mauka side. As we approached one of the caves we found ourselves stepping over piles of debris. But what looked like rubbish to us had some unknown value to the person who lived in that cave. As we passed the entrance we heard unmistakable evidence that we were not welcome.
Luckily the large dog barking and snarling at us was locked behind bars.
We walked further up to the next cave. The occupant, Tayama told us, had recently died. But it looked like someone else had already moved in. There was a sign up on the walls of this primitive stone “house.” It was an ad for real estate, and it said, “live the American Dream.”
After he stopped working for the Care-a-Van, Tayama himself became houseless, as he calls it. He lived that way until 13 years ago when he finally found a home - with the Nation of Hawaii in Waimanalo. Some of you may remember this group of homeless Hawaiians who made a stand at Makapuu Beach in the early ‘90s under the leadership of Bumpy Kanahele. Eventually this tattooed ex-con did what no one expected him to do - negotiated with the leaders of the state to secure 43 acres of land above Waimanalo. That place, which many call a refuge, is today an orderly and safe community for families who abide by strict rules. Everyone has a job. No drugs are allowed. Tayama says it’s an example of how the homeless can succeed “if only given some land of their own.”
Tayama is not a believer in quick change or easy solutions, or for that matter, in the will of the people or the politicians to make things right.
“Governor Lingle has a solution? Nah. Homelessness is an attitude. A societal attitude that accepts it. We spend billions to go abroad to help other nations. We make millionaires out of athletes and entertainers. We spend trillions on our military, yet have no nationalized healthcare. We build unaffordable homes. Temporary housing is a temporary solution and will not solve the problem. Truly affordable housing will. I hope you will agree that even those earning “minimum” wage have the human right to a safe clean affordable home in the richest nation in the world.”
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