Under the Sun
Homeless peel away city's festive veneer
SHE emerged from a gray, domed tent barefoot but dressed in a neat blouse and skirt, an outfit hundreds of working women put on for a day at the office.
She carried a pair of shoes, which she carefully set on the wall separating the beach from the elevated walkway and picnic area at Ala Moana Park.
She circled the tent, pulling up stakes, her efficiency demonstrating that it was a task she'd done repeatedly. In a few moments, the flexible poles that shaped the tent were pulled from their sleeves. As she shook the tent free of sand, a man in work shirt, pants and boots joined her and together they folded blankets and other bedding. He gathered the load in his arms and pressed them into the already stuffed trunk of a compact car.
After a quick look around, the woman skipped up the steps and retrieved her shoes. She went to sit in the passenger seat, brushing her feet clean before sliding on the low-heeled pumps.
The sun had just begun to rise as the couple, both in their early 30s, drove off to begin another day, she at two part-time jobs, he in a temporary position with a landscape business.
They were hoping to put together enough cash to rent an apartment. In the meantime, they lived in their car. If they decided to pitch their tent, they would wait until late at night, leaving early in the morning to avoid being rousted.
My encounter with them took place years ago, before the state's economy recovered from the downturn after 9/11. They were among the unknown number of people categorized as the "working poor." They also could be called homeless or indigent, terms that mask their humanity.
As the city begins purging from the park the people who do not have the means or the capability to find permanent places to live, I wonder about that man and woman.
In an enlivened economy, in a state that boasts the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, they would more likely have found better-paying, steady jobs. With both willing and able to work, I'd like to think they managed to save enough money to have a firm roof over their heads instead of one of flimsy fabric.
In that scenario, they would not be among the scores of people who spend their days wandering aimlessly around Honolulu until the cover of darkness allows them to huddle under trees and picnic tables or to spread grimy sleeping bags in rows along the park's promenade.
I hope they aren't there to accept the free food various charitable groups give out from time to time, that they haven't had to dig through trash cans for discarded tidbits to ease their hunger or to collect cans and bottles to redeem for a few nickels.
City officials say closing the park at night is necessary to prepare for renovation work late next month and that they've gotten complaints that the presence of homeless people make other park users uncomfortable.
It is unsettling to see fellow human beings who haven't the basic things in life. Most of us sympathize, but feel there's little that can be done to help other than to offer a sandwich, plate lunch or a few dollars.
So we look to government, but there doesn't seem to be compelling initiative among our leaders despite the task forces, summits and endless talk, talk, talk. Community groups have suggested ways to provide housing, but the complexity of the problem makes solutions elusive.
That the park will be the site of a city-sponsored celebration this weekend also might have something to do with the closing. Citizens will observe Honolulu's centennial with carnival rides, entertainment, "thrill" exhibitions and food. Homeless citizens apparently aren't invited.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org