In the Midst of Paradise

           Oahu is a beautiful place. There’s no doubt about that. The views of the Ko`olau and Waianae Range, Lanikai and North Shore beaches, Waimanalo and Hanauma Bay, and even Diamond Head, never ceases to get old. But alongside these natural beauties, one can always spot the homeless. Hawaii has a serious homeless problem; statewide, there are at least 6,000 homeless at any given day, while 12-15,000 people are homeless at some point of the year. Known for its exquisiteness, but also known for its homeless problem – Hawaii was ranked by The National Alliance to End Homelessness as one of the top states to have the highest rates of homelessness. Each election, a new governor attempts to address this issue, and find an effective solution, but there seems to be no simple resolution. Reducing the number of homeless in this tropical paradise is complicated and sometimes seems impossible. But I have hope.
           It always astonishes me when I drive in Waianae and see the long stretch of people living in tents, vans, and overhangs right next to the beach. Or when I pass through China Town and discover that there is no room to walk on the sidewalk – makeshift tents and shopping carts take up all the space. What amazes me even more is the situation at a local homeless shelter which I routinely volunteer at. Across from the shelter, there are a dozen tents and tarps set up, with homeless families living inside. All of this overwhelms me at a level so high, I am induced to talk to these families about the option of living in a shelter, where they can be helped. I have learned that these shelters can really make a difference – over the course of two years, I have seen dozens of families seek help, and move into transitional housing in less than a year, after finding a new job. These shelters may not be the ultimate solution for every homeless man, woman, or family, but these shelters certainly produce amazing results, and service a great number of people who would otherwise be struggling on the streets.
           My highest concern is the homeless children. The homeless children, I have learned, are no different than kids like me. We like similar music, share similar hobbies, and love a good time. As I tutor these kids, whose grades range from Kindergarten to 12th grade, I always forget that they are homeless. I forget that instead of going home and eating peacefully with their family, they return to the shelter’s cafeteria, where it is loud and full of people. They do not sleep and wake up when they wish – they have curfews and are woken up early in the morning. At school, they have to conceal the fact that they are homeless from other students, to avoid embarrassment and shame. I remember soothing one girl who was in tears because word got out that she was homeless. Another kid told me that it’s hard to get enough sleep because babies are crying, people are talking, and they have to wake up so early. These children have a hard, stressing life; they are expected as students to focus on school, but how can they when they live in a homeless shelter? The fact that children my age are put through this is astonishing. When people degrade the homeless, it is upsetting and distressing – they need to realize how much adversity the homeless endure, especially the children, who are sometimes robbed of their childhood.
           Hawaii will never be a complete, tropical paradise – not unless the plight of homelessness is resolved. How can people sip martinis and sleep in $300 nightly hotels, while there are innocent children sleeping in tents and shelters? Although it is evident that there is no easy solution, it is still imperative to keep seeking a solution, and in the meantime, keep helping the homeless through these effective shelters. Homelessness in Hawaii always unfailingly astonishes me. However, I have genuine hope that one day, all the homeless can find an affordable home and have the luxury to eat a peaceful dinner with their family.

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