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Putting safety first a compassionate resolve

Confronting Homelessness

The recent violence surrounding Maui homeless encampments makes it clear that the safety of Maui residents needs to be prioritized. This includes the safety of our houseless residents. Putting safety first may not seem like the most compassionate thing to do, but in actuality it is.

In the March 2019 column, I wrote how the rights of Maui businesses were being impeded upon by people living in their cars in the Kahului industrial area, stating: “Yes the homeless have rights and we need to continue to work on finding solutions through ‘Housing First,’ but with that being said, those who are refusing services are encroaching on the rights of the rest of us and need to be held accountable for their actions.” You can read about this at www.mauinews.com/opinion/columns/2019/03/consider-oahus-example-for-homeless-who-refuse-services/.

The column emphasizes how people living in their vehicles are negatively affecting businesses on Maui and specifically about our family business, Hawaiian Carpet One and Ceramic Tile. Last week, a friend and customer asked me if Alamaha Street is safe. I was relieved to reply, “Yes, it’s very safe.” Yet I was still concerned that safety was still in question.

We can rest assured that the MPD is doing an incredible job keeping the streets safe in the Kahului industrial area, and county government officials are working diligently to find solutions to this islandwide dilemma and are considering the rights of both the homeless and the housed.

Recently at a Feed My Sheep food distribution, I met Jim (not his real name). Jim lives in his car. He told me that he is a veteran of three wars and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. I watched as he became overly defensive when asked to follow some simple rules. It took time, but as I listened to his concerns his demeanor softened.

During our chat, I asked if he wanted help finding a place to live, he answered yes. The next day, I called Family Life Center (FLC) and discovered that they knew Jim and without sharing confidential details, they revealed that they were having a difficult time placing him in a home.

I know FLC well and have immense respect for the work they do. Because of this, I am certain that they are doing everything possible to help Jim. The next time I saw him, I asked how things were going with his case manager at FLC. I watched as he again became unreasonably annoyed and defensive and concluded that even though he says he wants help, he is refusing the help offered. He told me he would rather stay in his car than live in what they are showing him and that what they offer just isn’t good enough.

Somehow, Jim can’t seem to comprehend that his safety is dependent on the security that four walls can provide and with the fact that he has PTSD. The community’s well-being is also dependent on him living in a stable environment, one that includes the services that “Housing First” can deliver.

What can we (me and you) do to help Jim? We must remember, he is not thriving, his health is suffering and his safety and the safety of the community are compromised when he is living in his car on the streets. Being compassionate can sometimes mean calling the police. So call the nonemergency number when your rights and the rights of others are infringed upon. For example, when he wants your private property to be his living space, make that call to (808) 244-6400, or when you feel unsafe because his home is the sidewalk outside your workplace — make the call.

Putting safety first is a compassionate resolve for both you and for him, his incentive to move to a more secure environment might possibly be dependent on you helping him become a little more uncomfortable living as he is.

* 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, 99 Mahalani St., Wailuku. To participate, call (808) 242-4900.