What are you doing about the homeless?

Confronting Homelessness

Last week was National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. On Maui, the events of the week included Mayor Arakawa reading a proclamation, sign waving in both Kahului and Lahaina, a panel discussion, a candlelight vigil, a homeless resource fair and a statewide Homelessness Awareness conference. The week was inspiring, informative and eye-opening. I finished the week feeling encouraged by the progress being made statewide.

But I was also a little discouraged by the lack of community support. During the panel discussion, the participants answered questions and shared about the progress (both individually and collectively) that is being made on Maui. All seemed to be going well when a person in the audience asked: “What are you (the panel participants) doing about the homeless?” This question was asked after the panel participants had extensively spoken on that very subject. Did you listen to anything that was just said!?! It astounds me how often this happens.

On Maui, there are amazing people, organizations and county departments involved with the Maui Homeless Alliance. They work tirelessly to help the community by working with Maui’s homeless. And I’ve got to say, they really don’t deserve the criticism they often receive. I heard about a community meeting where housing agencies were invited to participate and instead of being allowed to talk about their programs the audience verbally attacked them. What is going on?!? These agencies are not causing homelessness — they are the few who are addressing this issue as well as alleviating the problem — often at great sacrifice.

A few days ago, I was talking with Roxie (not her real name) who is a staff member of the Family Life Center (FLC). She shared with me how she was driving home from work when she saw Harry (not his real name) on the side of the road. Roxie recognized Harry as a person who has been homeless for the last few years, and she decided to pull over her car to talk to him.

Roxie, as well as other staff members at FLC, have tried repeatedly to convince Harry to move into a home. To their dismay, he chooses to live outdoors. However, this didn’t stop her from trying! Roxie spent time chatting with him when she asked: “Harry do you remember how we talked about finding a place for you to live, are you ready to give that a try?” He replied, “No not yet.” Roxie then asked him, “Well what will it take for you to change your mind, what can we do to help you move into a home and off the streets?” He just simply said he is not ready.

Even though she wasn’t successful this time, the next time she sees Harry she will stop her car and have a similar conversation. She is convinced that he will eventually want to live in a home. Because of this, Roxie will never give up on Harry.

The Family Life Center, as well as others, who are involved with the Maui Homeless Alliance are extremely passionate about this mission. I can guarantee that if you see a homeless person on Maui — they have also seen that same person. Not only have they seen them, they have developed a relationship and are doing everything possible to move them into a safe home and off the street.

Now those of you in the community who critically ask, “What are you doing about the homeless?” I want to ask you this question: What are you doing about the homeless? This is a community effort, so why do you remove yourselves from that responsibility? The work is very difficult, and your support is needed.

Try to imagine what it would be like if these agencies did not participate in homeless outreach. The homelessness on Maui would be much worse without them, so please instead of criticizing, listen to what they have to say and then ask what you can do to help.

* 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 MEO. To participate call (808) 242-4900.