My Turn: Kicking it down the road

Watching society kick homelessness into the next field, parking lot, or generation creates a pain in my heart that I’ll never get used to. I don’t underestimate the effort and aloha that goes into trying to solve the crisis, but removing homeless from Kailua Pier is just more of the same “feel like we’re doing something” lack of action that adds to the humiliation, illness, fear, anger, lack of community, and other harmful affects of being increasingly and even permanently marginalized from society.

If I was king, I’d direct federal coronavirus relief funding to homelessness. I’d make the uber wealthy ante up to park their jets on public lands (airports) with fees commensurate to helping keep the society that supports them safe and healthy. And when tourists are busting down Hawaii’s doors to get in, I wouldn’t be squabbling about how many more millions of dollars to give Hawaii Tourism Authority to keep stating the obvious. A minimum livable wage = no brainer.

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People complain about the squalor of homelessness, but have they tried finding a public restroom or shower while carrying their worldly possessions on their back, especially during COVID-19? Rather than close public facilities, we’d create ablution blocks placed throughout the district for anyone who needs a toilet or shower and has only their feet to get there. We’d build little homes like those at Kawaihae years back: simple, open, and large enough to give a person or family fresh air and space not to feel boxed in. They’d be integrated into neighborhood-style “camps” where tents could be set up for those more comfortable living outdoors (cheap!). The camps would be within walking distance to necessities like groceries. Medical and psychological support would be available 24/7, with a camp “counselor” who’d be deeply involved in helping to avoid or ameliorate crises, with the goal of moving the houseless toward independent, society-strengthening lives.

My exercise routine has brought me closer to several homeless individuals. Beside enjoying getting to know them, I’ve learned more about their challenges and strengths. Most served in the military and experience PTSD. Some have a past or lingering drug and alcohol addiction they battle with daily. One told me he couldn’t live in the temporary homeless encampment at Old Kona Airport Park even though the location is handy. But criminal activity takes place there, including drug use, so it’s not a good place for him and, anyway, he’s 70 years old with only a bicycle for transportation; and he won’t be able to get to the mauka location when those shelters are moved. Rather than chance going back to the Vietnam-induced heroin use he kicked 16 years ago, he prefers taking his chances living furtively, being constantly moved along and fined by police. In fact, the police show up at Old Kona Airport Park to check on and move homeless almost every time I’m there. Is that the best bang for our taxpayer bucks?

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Instead of leaving a ragged quilt of walled-off public amenities as our legacy, let’s continue to engage our collective imagination and untapped resources to move society to a more compassionate place — one that would be safer and better for everyone.

Janice Palma-Glennie is a resident of Kailua-Kona.