Judgment and criticism don’t help situation for the homeless

Confronting Homelessness

Rather than reporting homeless statistics this month, I want to share from my heart, hoping that my personal experience and perspective will provide some empathy and understanding.

Last week on Valentine’s Day, I had the privilege to be the guest speaker at a dinner sponsored by the Valley Isle Kiwanis Club. After accepting this invitation, I started thinking about what I should share. That was when I realized — there is really only one subject to share on Valentine’s Day, and that subject is love.

I had to think hard about this. What is love? There is the love I have for my husband, my children, my extended family and friends. Beyond that the love of my country and the love of Maui and the people who live here.

I know how I feel when I feel love, but what is love really? Is it a feeling? While thinking about this, I realized that love is much more than a feeling; it is action. It is easy to say you love someone or something, but selfless, generous and kind acts are what show and express the depth of that love.

I will always love my family. It does not matter what they do, I will love them unconditionally until the day I die and beyond. However, how do they know that I love them unconditionally? They cannot feel what I am feeling. It is the things I do, as well as the words that I say, that have to communicate that love.

To be honest, there are times in all my relationships when I feel anger or hurt, not necessarily love. At these times, my actions need to be intentional to show love, even though I may not feel like it.

What does this have to do with homelessness on Maui? While at this Kiwanis meeting, two men expressed a concern that is widely shared by many. Asking the question, “So why don’t the homeless just get jobs?” There is an old Cheyenne proverb: Do not judge your neighbor until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.

When I was 10 years old, my family lived in Oregon. My father worked at one of the local lumber mills. He worked on the green chain pulling raw-cut lumber off a belt and sorting it by size and quality. You can read about this at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Chain_(sawmill). It was a humble job, and though many considered us poor, Dad was able to provide more than enough for our family.

The lumber mill operated year-round and the green chain was outdoors. During winter months, it was often slippery from ice and snow. On one such day, Dad slipped and fell, breaking his back. A short recovery time at the hospital took all of our money, which forced us into extreme poverty.

My father, being a man of great pride, would endure immense pain as he forced himself to stand straight while he looked for work. But the pain proved to be unbearable, limiting his ability to keep a steady job. My poor father, he was crushed. It took a few years for him to recover enough to provide for our family again.

Even though circumstances were beyond Dad’s control, people would judge and criticize him. My heart still aches when I think about the time I overheard a conversation where someone close to us called my father white trash. Even though this was a very difficult time, I will always remember how the kindness of friends and neighbors kept a roof over our heads and food on our table.

The people we serve at Feed My Sheep (both homeless and living in homes) all long for a better life. Just like my family, it is not judgment and criticism that changes their situation; it is caring support and unconditional love that will help them get to a place where they have the ability to thrive.

* Joyce Kawakami is a full-time volunteer, founder and CEO of Feed My Sheep Inc. As an active member of the Maui Homeless Alliance, she chairs the Awareness Committee. The alliance meets on the third Wednesday of each month at Maui Economic Opportunity at the J. Walter Cameron Center, 99 Mahalani St. in Wailuku. To participate, call 242-4900.