One Man Can Make A Difference
Utu Langi’s work helping the homeless proves that just one person can make a huge difference in this world. It Started With One Cold Person And A Blanket. Today, Utu Langi Is Leading The Way In Helping The Homeless
By Chad Pata
E-mail this story | Print this page | Archive | RSS | Del.icio.us
This is the story of a great man. Not one who has reached the mountaintop of politics like Barack Obama or even the status of a world champion like Shane Victorino, but a truly great man who lives here among us.
He doesn’t seek the spotlight. In fact, he only agrees to interviews because he knows it will do much for the people he is trying to help.
What makes him great is that any one of us could do what he does. You don’t need a silver tongue or uncanny hand-eye coordination, you just have to do what everyone else is unwilling to do.
“It’s funny - the issue with homelessness and the poor is we don’t know what to do, so instead we just want them out of here!” says Utu Langi, founder of H-5, a grassroots organization dedicated to ending homelessness. “They seem so mean, but the truth is they don’t know what to do so they act like that.”
Langi discovered what to do one chilly December night as he was heading home from a graveyard shift working as a carpenter. It was 4 a.m. and the light at the intersection of Beretania and Kalakaua turned red. Stuck idling at the light he noticed the only other person out in the wee hours of the morning was a man sleeping at a bus stop, his knees tucked up under his chin trying to ward off the cold.
The light turned green and he proceeded toward home until a thought occurred to him.
“I am never going to know about this teaching I hear on Sundays (in church) unless I go try,” says Langi.
So he turned on Kinau Street to circle the block and return to the sleeping man. Langi had an old blanket he kept in the bed of his camper truck to cover his tools. He parked the truck and grabbed the blanket.
“I walked over to him, shivering, me afraid, I tap him on the feet and I ask him the dumbest question I ever asked anyone: ‘Are you cold?’” says Langi, laughing and shaking his head at the memory. “He never said anything, but I put the blanket over him, and I remembered when my mom would put the blanket on me as a kid. I cried all the way home to Makakilo.
“I am still living that moment.” The next week Langi approached his minister at First United Methodist Church, Jim Ledgerwood, about taking up a collection of blankets for the homeless. They received 22 that first week and gave them out in about 15 minutes downtown.
While the itinerant were thankful for the warmth, it was the woman who asked Langi if he had any food for them who spurred on his new ministry.
Langi and his sons Maika and Siu’ea decided to name it H-5 for their alliterative full name, Hawaii Helping the Hungry Have Hope. Also at that time, in 1996, they saw how slow the progress was on H-3 and figured the name would be safe for a long time to come.
The only problem was Langi was out of work at the time, and therefore had no extra money to buy food to feed those without. But rather than give up, he looked for a solution.
It came in the form of what the rest of us had thrown away. On the side of the road he found three dilapidated lawn mowers waiting for bulky-item pickup. Langi and a couple of his homeless friends fixed up the mowers, started cutting lawns and asking for donations.
They would collect the money all week and then have a barbecue for all the homeless Fridays at Ala Moana Park.
“We had no truck at the time, so the homeless guys would load up shopping carts at the church (on Beretania Street) and push them to the park to feed the others,” says Langi. “They inspired me - these guys are survivors and nothing stands in their way.”
H-5 now serves about 6,000 meals a month thanks to hundreds of volunteers and assistance from local churches and the Hawaii Foodbank. Having now warmed the poor and filled their bellies, what was to be the next step for Langi?
The third stage of his outreach came one Saturday after a terrible epiphany brought on by a trip to the Leeward side to feed the impoverished. The rule for the trip was always to use the restroom at the church in town, because the public restrooms in Waianae were toxic. But Langi was in a hurry and forgot, and nature called once they got to the park, so he hurried through the rain to use the facilities.
“It was nasty, but I needed to use it,” remembers Langi. “When I got in there, there was a young couple with their two little children using one of the stalls as shelter from the rain.
“That was terrible. That is unacceptable to me. I never even used the restroom. I almost threw up. This is Hawaii, of all places, how can we allow that? I had such anger in me that we had gotten to that point that we would allow that. So I started thinking: How can we provide a simple shelter that is not a bathroom?”
Once back outside he noticed a Roberts Hawaii bus rumbling by and thought, “You can fit a lot of people in a bus.” So he started looking for used buses that maybe someone could donate for
E-mail this story | Print this page | Comments (0) | Archive | RSS
Most Recent Comment(s):