It’s a perfect day for the beach… sun is shining, breeze is blowing, temperature neither too hot nor too cool. So you pack your bag with all the necessities: sunscreen, water, etc. and head out the door. On your way you notice a man who looks like he’s experiencing some distress. He appears a bit unsteady; he has a wild look in his eyes. He mutters something to a lady on the street. She moves away from him. You see all of this but you’re in the car with the window rolled up and the air conditioning on so you drive on.
At the beach you find a great spot. Not too close to anyone… there’s plenty of room. You get everything unpacked and start putting on your sunscreen when suddenly there’s a bit of a commotion. The man from earlier has made his way to the beach, as if following you, and is headed in your direction. His appearance is unkempt; long, scraggly reddish beard, dirty clothes, pale face smeared with God-knows-what. He is most obviously homeless. And mentally ill. Your heart rate increases slightly and you look around to see if anyone else notices this person who is both out of place and fits in at the same time. No one does.
He continues towards you. His gait is labored, eyes glassy as he staggers along and drops down about six feet from your towel. He immediately passes out. You look around again, hoping that someone else has witnessed this but everyone carries on; eyes focused on books and cell phones…some eyes closed to take a little nap in the sun. What do you do?
I’ll tell you what we did… we moved our stuff down the beach a ways. But that man’s face has stayed in my head for months. In a perfect world, a world much more compassionate than ours, we would have asked him if he was ok. Or someone would have offered him some help. But there he lay, face planted in the sand, looking to all the world as if he had passed on from here.
This problem of homelessness is not new. It has been ongoing since forever and seems to have no good chance of being solved anytime soon. It’s everywhere. In Detroit you expect to see homeless individuals wandering the city streets but you rarely see them in affluent suburban areas. Here in Hawaii, among the beaches and palm trees, the homeless camp in parks, next to vacant buildings, on the sidewalk… anywhere they can find a spot. They are everywhere (except maybe the most touristy of areas). It seems completely daunting.
The availability of affordable housing is a huge issue that makes homelessness inevitable for many people. It’s heartbreaking to see these camps. To see a father with his young son trying on clothes in the middle of the Salvation Army Thrift Store because all their belongings, packed in suitcases, won’t fit in the dressing room. To see an old lady laying on a neatly made mattress right next to a building; the contents of her former residence, stacked like walls all around her. Completely heartbreaking. And all I seem to be able to do is to tuck away these images in my sub conscience and to pray for those souls whenever their faces bubble to the surface of my mind. I don’t know what else to do. It plagues me.
I saw my homeless friend yesterday-the one from the beach. He was sitting on the sidewalk next to the grocery store that’s near our place. He was crouched down, holding a children’s book about Jesus. He was leafing through the book, muttering to himself, completely focused on the book. Mesmerized by its images.
I walked on. And said another prayer.