Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My latest post to admin about mental health issues

16 September 2014
Dear Vice Chancellor for Students:

I'm writing to follow up on my emails of last week about the aftermath of a student's tragic death on campus. I'm hoping that you've met with the head of the counseling center to brainstorm a way to make more information available to faculty and to students. What you term the "wonderful resource" of the counseling center is not wonderful unless students know it's there. Here are some suggestions I've come up with:
--I've been told that professors of the student were informed of his death the next morning and told to let students know about counseling. But many of us who were not his professor had students who were, and probably remain, traumatized by the event of last Tuesday. We are informed about stolen bikes and sexual assaults, so why are we not informed of sudden deaths on campus?
--One of my students said that those most deeply affected were told by the counseling center that they would have to wait for an appointment. She added that her parents had called the center to ask for more immediate help. In the event of such a tragedy, allow for walk-ins. And do more than put a notice in _Ka Leo_ two days later, on-line, to say that counseling is available. (I was glad at least to see it there, but my students say they don't read the student newspaper.)

--When a tragic death happens in the dorms, send counselors to the dorms rather than waiting for students to find the counseling center on campus.
--Put up lots of flyers all over campus to alert students to the existence and location of the center.
--Given that there are protocols about privacy, such knowledge could be disseminated without assigning a cause of death or injury. In any case, hard to keep that knowledge from students who saw the event or heard about it from their friends.
--Do more open education about depression and other mental illnesses and address the problem of suicide by publicizing ways to prevent it, rather than simply hiding from public view. I don't know if this young man's death was an accident or suicide, but there have been many suicides on and off campus over the years. I'm told that one person dies by suicide every two days in Hawai`i. Hiding the problem certainly isn't fixing it.
When I spoke to Dr. X last week, she said there would be meeting on Monday at which she'd bring this issue up. The only response I got to my email to your office was one with no human signature. I would appreciate hearing more from you in person. And I would be happy to come to your office to talk, as well.
aloha, Susan


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"His name was Abel."

"His name was Abel," my student said as I walked him from our classroom to the counseling center. "He was Abel." Another friend killed by a drunk driver over the weekend. He had a name too, but I forgot. He wanted to check in himself, so I went back. The class was writing. I opened Donovan Kuhio Colleps's Proposed Additions, to "A List of Unwritten Stories About You." Number 1: "When you lived in Kailua as a young man, drinking with your pals, Papa Abel, your father, swiped the beer bottles off the table in the yard . . ." I put the book down. Opened a novel that arrived in the mail yesterday. The Story of Forgetting, by Stefan Merrill Block. I turned to chapter 1. "Abel: Once, I Fell in Love with Everything."


Note: http://www.bartleby.com/108/01/4.html




Here is an exchange of emails I had with admin. I do not find the unsigned response adequate. I also called someone at the Counseling Center and expressed my concerns that students were traumatized yesterday and, because faculty were unaware of a death on campus, we had no idea what we were walking into. She says she'll bring the matter up in a meeting . . .

Aloha--

A student in my 9:30 class asked to talk to me outside the class, so I went. He not only lost a friend this past weekend in a car crash, but he witnessed the death of a student yesterday at the dorms. When I mentioned the death to my second class, one student said he was a friend of her sister's and she hadn't heard from her.

I took the first young man to counseling myself. But it seems to me that all privacy rules aside, professors and instructors should know that they might have traumatized students in their classes after an event like this. They should be notified that counseling is available. I'm frankly a bit horrified that there has been no official word about this event.

Susan


Susan M. Schultz
Professor of English
University of Hawai`i-Mānoa
Editor, Tinfish Press

tinfishpress.com
http://tinfisheditor.blogspot.com

_Dementia Blog_, _Memory Cards:
2010-2011 Series_ &
_"She's Welcome to Her Disease":
Dementia Blog, Vol. 2_, available from
singinghorsepress.com & spdbooks.org

Vice Chancellor for Students

6:53 AM (2 hours ago)


to me
Dear Dr. Schultz: Thank you for reaching out and and informing our office of your positive actions in support of one of our students. We deeply appreciate your efforts and thank you for helping us spread the word about the wonderful resource, Counseling and Student Development Center, on campus.


Office of the Vice Chancellor for Students

and my next email to them:


Dear Office of the Vice Chancellor--
My point was not to show that I had done a good deed, but to ask that you let us on the front line know better what we're facing in our classrooms. I've spoken with the head of the Counseling Center, who says she'll bring the issue up in a meeting. I hope you think of something--

aloha, Susan

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Norman Hindley (1944-2014) RIP





Several short weeks ago, Joe Tsujimoto put a late poem by Norman Hindley on his facebook page. The word "late" rang hard, as it was--at least to me--also a death announcement. I had not seen him since the late 90s, around the time of my marriage, but hold to some vivid memories of him.

Here are two:

The early 90s, when slam poetry was just inventing itself, and the local scene was just imagining what it might be. At the Lizard Loft on Kapahulu I went to a competitive reading of page poems, as it would later seem, and witnessed a face-off between Joe and Norman, who both taught at Punahou. Joe read a poem including drunkenness, and Norman an episode of domestic terror where the speaker was hunted down by his wife and shut in a freezer locker. Punahou may mostly be for rich kids, but there's some rawness in the faculty.

Then my friend Diana S., who also taught at Punahou, became Norman's partner for a time. It was her birthday and so Bryant and I (as yet unmarried) went to their townhouse for a party. I was sitting minding my own business when I heard the clarion call of Hindley: "SCHULTZY!!! You MUST try my noodle dish." Like a meek friend who wanted only to please, I began to eat the dish until I started to feel flush, asthmatic, ill. Staring down my boyfriend, I realized I had eaten peanuts (turned out it was Thai noodle with peanut butter, to which I am--literally--deathly allergic). Bryant caught the horrible glare from me and we left. We ended up in the ER that night. "I DIDN'T MEAN TO KILL YOU, SCHULTZY," was the later response. 

It seemed at the time that Norman's best poetry was behind him. He had published Winter Eel through Frank Stewart's Petronium Press in 1984. The cover design is by Steve Shrader, whose posthumous work Tinfish published last year. (The image of barbed wire across an ocean vista is appropriate to Hindley's work, as to Shrader's, however different their poetics.) It was perhaps the high water mark of Euro-American poetry on O`ahu, the 1970s and early 1980s. I wasn't to arrive here until 1990, so I can't know for sure. But I edited and published a book of Euro-American poetry from Hawai`i last year because it's considered outsider work; I regret not asking Norman for poems. His poems are not "Tinfish poems," but they are very very good. Apparently there are some four volumes of Norman's poetry yet to be published. Joe said that there was a pile of manuscripts at Norman's house that went up to his waist. The poems that comprise his first book, the one I have on my desk as I write, are few but stern. Solid, sharp objects, like the knives that appear in them, there do not need to be many to reflect the poet's anger, his reticence, and his stark rhetoric.

The poems in Winter Eel are violent and loving in equal measure. What is loved is earth's details, curt words slotted into measured, chiseled lines. Many of the poems are about a family romance gone desperately wrong: a violent father who could not be pleased; a wandering mother who "snapped one day"; a son locked in Oedipal desire (there's a poem about him looking at her looking at herself in the mirror); sexual abuse at the hands of an uncle and of a man of the cloth. As childhood violence abates, another kind of violence erupts. This is the violence of the hunt for muskrat, for fish, for sharks, and an aborted hunt for men who stole from him. A woman is murdered by a stranger and cut into tiny parts. The book itself seems to teeter on that moment when the poet nearly murdered the men who violated him. It is also, as so many poet's first books are, a book about writing, about art, about the way in which art only partially comes to redeem a life. Let me dip into the book, write through some of these poems. (I'm doing some of this after reading the comments sent to an earlier version of the post; so many people knew Norman, yet not perhaps his poems.)

I turn to "You Pour into the Audi like Mud," from the 1984 collection. This poem, like the others in this slim volume, is in free verse, each line commencing with a capital letter, an odd schism between formal verse and informal reportage. Like other poems in this style--why am I thinking James Wright?--the poem tells a straightforward story, though there's a catch at the end. The language is simple, as are the lines, though their simplicity packs a punch. The story is of a man who films his own mother's funeral in ways that are disturbing to the speaker, whose anger against the subject accumulates with the poem's line. Consider the tight, angry language:

The Ford that's been riding my ass

then:

And your body went riding into the furnace
For burning
And your tendons tightened like strapping
Making you bend a bit at the waist
As if to rise

As it turns out, the man who filmed his dead mother in near pornographic terms and who has himself died was the poet's uncle. We don't find that out until the end, but we already know that the uncle showed the strange film to anyone who would watch--boys, including the poet--which raises the specter of other kinds of violence, other intimate intrusions.

The uncle is burned, and his urn put "as close to your mother / As allowed." "Dignified."

But what I'll tell you uncle
That left ot me
You'd of been thrown down a hole
In a can
No flowers, no mother
No black Fairlane to ride.

I'm not sure where the Audi of the title comes in, as the poem is all black Fairlane, a word that stands in stark contrast to the unfair boundary-less presence of the uncle. But the poem is strong.

Starker yet is "Sinner," addressed to a "Reverend" who abused boys in South America, and then abused the poet as an 11-year old child. "His hand-picked boy." For three years. The poet writing the poem is now 36, and feels himself hardened by the abuse:

It's for the shot of ice you left in me
Which I can and do turn on others,
For the deadlands in my heart 
That are windy
Empty as any March.

March may be a poetic month (consider Stevens's and Bishop's poems, just for starters, about that early spring month), but it's crueler than cruel April in this poem. The brash machismo of the poetic surfaces--language hard, unemotional--comes to unveil (as through dense rust) hurt as powerful as the anger that attempts to defeat it.

The betrayals of these poems--son by mother, mother by father, boy by priest--are alchemized later in a poem about sharks, "Sharks in Shapes of 8." In this poem, the poet fills a gallon bottle with bull's blood and goes out onto the reef with a gun. He will attract a shark, kill the shark, then watch the other sharks attack. It's a gruesome act, told in beautiful language:

Converging currents carried the blood in carnations,
It shawled through the coral like dinner bells,
Some would tongue outward,
And I'd stand with the Winchester and wait
For the white tips, the hammerheads, the occasional tiger
To swim in from their blue vaults,
To cruise the reef,
Picturing wounds, fresh meat.

Then, like an abuser of substance or person or other being, the poet announces, "I've quit." Not because he puts himself in danger out on the reef, blooming in the bought blood, but because, "I was ashamed of deceiving, killing / These long swimmers, these survivors / Of ice, of cataclysm." A final stanza to this poem stands in excess, relates his desire to join the sharks, whom he watches on a camping trip. There's a generalization to that last stanza that doesn't bite as hard as what came before. We already recognized that love in his abnegation. He has not given up on violence, but his violence will now be direct, honest. He will not cheat.

There are also poems about poetry, art. The third poem in the book is "Painting by Numbers." The poem tells the first person story of someone who paints by numbers, "stayed inside the borders, / Faithful to paint, the commandment of numbers." He loses that organization, begins to lose control of his paints, gets closer to memory than to schooled artistry. He is taken back to a Massachusetts winter when a young woman plays Mozart on the piano (this takes us outside image, leads us into the porches of the ear):

But there are no numbers for Mozart.
The canvas hangs like ice, violet,
It is the amethyst of winter.
Or the still life with pears.

When first I became obsessed with Wallace Stevens, dog-earing A Palm at the End of the Mind even before its pages turned brown with age and tropical air, there were two poems I most loved. The first was "Mozart, 1935," and the second was "A Study of Two Pears."  Hindley's poem weaves on, taking in people enjoying a good meal, a man in Oakland who feeds a toad he never sees, a self-portrait that is nothing but spilled quicksilver, then ends on a note of hidden greyness, not bright paint. Like Stevens, Hindley pares (sic) away summer foliage and ends up with a mind of winter, free of metaphor, free to be, "that wintry sound"

As of the great wind howling,
By which sorrow is released,
Dismissed, absolved
In a starry placating.

Another of Hindley's poems about art is "Keyboard," about a young pianist whose mother pushes her, causes her to hate the instrument, "like shit in bed." The girl turns to visual art, frequenting the Boston Museum when she was supposed to be rehearsing. She is poor, knows the poet (and nurses him back from sickness) because they lived "in opposite rat holes." She paints with Dutch Boy until she runs out, then works with any material at hand. She cannot stop making things. As the poem ends, we learn that her mother is still alive--"she's 200 or so"--and trots out the early recital program.  She "doesn't know that you've been an instrument / For 50 years, a violin of lines and form, / She doesn't give a goddamn that you will go on always, / Covering canvas after canvas with exquisite women / Alone in powerful, warm rooms."

American poetry, like American culture, so often sets art up against the practical world. "I've got a fight going," a student said to me just yesterday, "between my passions and more practical matters." Less frequently do poets set one art form up against another as a way to explore family conflict, artistic ambivalence. But the woman who becomes the art instrument her mother does not recognize is, in its own way, just as powerful a conceit for the situation of art. Forced to choose between sound and image, this woman ends up destitute in a cold studio, unloved by her sole family member. The poet, who chooses both, knows the anguish of losing one to the other. There's an allegory here that cannot be neatly unpacked; this makes the poem more powerful than it would have been had he chosen one or the other vehicle. But it's about making choices and suffering through the redemption they offer us.

If I needed to categorize Hindley's poetry, I'd put it in the box on which is scrawled "post-Romanticism." Emerson lives in these poems, but he's lost his arms and legs. Thoreau is stationed at an outpost in Hindley's mind, but he's steeped in violence, not peaceful resistance. Dickinson is present, a solitary maker in a cold room with an unsympathetic family, but her transcendent language has been put down for boards and planks and fishing poles and Winchesters. There is desire for heroism, but recognition that heroism isn't what it used to be. In "Water Born," written for his brother, Hindley recounts a near death experience diving in sea, when he thought his brother was drowning. At the last minute, Norman releases himself into the current (becomes an instrument of it) and his brother, too, emerges alive, his catch intact. "We headed back, / Renewed, heroic, or as close as we'd ever get." So much in that or (rhymes with "oar"). Renewal is not heroism, though it is survival. These are the poems of a survivor who knows a kind of heroism that cannot be bruited about. It must remain stoic, because it covers over so many silences: abuse, violence, anti-social desire. The poems, in their honesty, give us access to heroism, even as we recoil from the gunshots.

While most of the poems are set in the New England of the poet's difficult youth, there are Hawai`i poems, poems about fishing, about the natural (if not friendly) world. Hindley lived for many decades on Moloka'i and O'ahu, came slowly--as do many Euro-American poets--to write about it. I hope that that there are many more set here in the poems that remain in manuscript . For one of my purposes in writing this is to acknowledge the contribution of this outsider/insider poet to Hawai`i's literature. A tense departmental meeting in the spring featured a colleague's guffaw at the menetion of "white poets in Hawai`i," a laugh I will not long forget. (The laugher was white, which is perhaps not a surprise. My anger is not at the speaker but at the symptom.) In response, I can hear a kind of dark laughter from Norman Hindley, who would have understood the deep ambivalences of his position in this vexed tradition.

___________________________


Diana sent me a link to a reading Norman gave at Punahou a few years ago. I had forgotten his strong New England accent (he was originally from Pawtucket, RI). And, while the poems remind me more of Wright and Bly perhaps, the accent brings into play the inheritance from Frost, for whom the outside world--whether farming or, in Norman's case, hunting and fishing--was an inevitable allegory for the cruelties of the human heart. Here is the YouTube video from 2008. "A Note for Amy" is worth listening to for the taut "t" sounds alone. Beauty's spit / ting image.




Let me copy the poem I mentioned at the outset, the one posted by Joe Tsujimoto on facebook, and lineate it as best I can, using facebook's lineation and my own guess work. I have Chris Hindley's permission to do so.


hill Mary
a song of heaven


behind the orchard
a pathway winds
enchanted as a wand
rising in graceful increments
toward the balm of proclaimed lands


fields 
of vigorous grass effect
a well-abounding yellow-green
they preen and ripple
on a threadbare breeze
an inland sea of radiant hay


abiding orphic
to the native ear
its compass points 
implied by titanic trees
their august leaves
stupendous green


registered on these are
destinations dates e.t.a.'s
of ships of men of rank and names
stark delphic inklings of solar
winds that scorch the seas auroral
vaults in arctic freeze
scribed by prescient sailors
onto trunks limbs stumps
and skins on concentric rings
of transcendent trees


From "hill Mary" on, this poem brings Hindley's keen eye for the world together with a spiritual impulse that seems absent from the 1984 book. "Hill Mary" may not be hailed, but perhaps offers some grace to the aging poet. He still recognizes the orphic, violated, fragments in his own voice, but ends with "transcendent trees" and no punctuation, rather than with an empty March, and a period. From March to Mary, from blood in the water to "a well-abounding yellow-green" is quite a voyage. I look forward to seeing more of how he got there.




Thursday, August 28, 2014

My testimony before the zoning committee of the Honolulu City Council



I stand in opposition to Bills 42, 43, 45, 46 & 48 [those that would criminalize homelessness]



On Oahu, you have the right to be rude to the homeless (we saw that in action at the Civil Beat forum), but you will not have the right to refuse shelter from the persons being rude to you.


On Oahu—as elsewhere—you have the right to be rude (it's called free speech), but if you're homeless, you do not have the right to “bad behavior.” As the head of IHS, Connie Mitchell, said to the Star-Advertiser: “We just think that supporting the bill sets the standard for public behavior. It isn't laws that criminalize people, it's people's behavior that criminalizes them.” As a friend of mine says: “It's not guns that kill people, it's the organ damage and blood loss from gunshot wounds that kill people. If we just outlaw those, we'll be fine.”


On Oahu, you do have the right to sit on the sidewalk in line to buy concert tickets, new iPhones, million dollar condos, or other luxuries, but not if you have nowhere to go after.


On Oahu, you have the right to shit, but only in a toilet; given the lack of public facilities, you pretty much need an apartment or a house.


On Oahu, you have the right to get on a wait list for housing, but not to wait in a place where you won't be “swept away” by the police.


On Oahu, you have the right to buy a gun from a large, exquisite display at Sports Authority, but you will not have the right, under redrafted Bill 45 to a full night's sleep. Instead, you get 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.: free from the sit/lie ban, or just 7 hours.


On Oahu, the Waikiki tourist board has the right to strong-arm IHS and the City Council into passing these bills before giving $500K to help the homeless; apparently, no one has the right to strong arm them by refusing their blackmail and demanding such help without the strings.


On Oahu, you have the right to say you're a progressive politician when you run for lower or higher office, but seemingly you do not have the chutzpah to actually be one when it comes to homelessness.


If you don't have a street address or a valid id, you can't vote, so no need help. Someone counting the votes? The campaign contributions?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Quotes for the day

In the community:

"We just think that supporting the bill sets the standard for public behavior. It isn't laws that criminalize people, it's people's behavior that criminalizes them."

--Connie Mitchell, head of IHS (Institute of Human Services), Honolulu

and, at my university:
"The Board of Regents and President David Lassner greatly appreciate the deep concerns and ideas shared by students and faculty in face-to-face meetings as well as by written and oral testimony over these past weeks. The fact that there are different perspectives on personnel matters and how they are handled does not mean that the concerns are not being heard."

--email after the firing of Chancellor Tom Apple & appointment of Robert Bley-Vroman as interim

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How the City Council Talks about Homelessness



The Honolulu City Council will take up Bills 42, 43, 45, 46, and 48 again on August 28 at 9 a.m. in Honolulu Hale. So I'm going to do some basic research on the public face of the Honolulu City Council's members on the issue(s) of homelessness. Interspersed with my research are statements and examples by H. Doug Matsuoka, who's been at this much longer than I have. [HDM] As he writes to me: "I've been trying to combat these bills since 2011's Bill 54 (which became 11-29 Revised Ordinances of Honolulu, I think). That was Tulsi Gabbard's bill and it seems some council members think if they replicate that kind of bill they will replicate that kind of success."
 
Many on the council are quite ambitious politicians, so they have websites that are easy to access. For example, Ikaika Anderson, Joey Manahan and Stanley Chang ran for Congress (they lost, but). But their websites are, for the most part, notably clean of any mention of this issue. As Colin Kippen would say, "there's a hole in his lauhala mat that covers the abyss."

Ikaika Anderson does not include homelessness among the issue on the website set up for his congressional campaign, though he seems to be one of the prime movers and shakers behind this move to criminalize.

http://www.ikaikaforhawaii.com/issues

[HDM]:  "Ikaika Anderson has been a big supporter of criminalization and "sidewalk" bills. He introduced 2013's Bill 6 that would have outlawed putting "any structure capable of providing human shelter" on the sidewalk. It was too idiotic even for the Council so they did not pass it. In fact, I believe Ikaika retracted it. http://www.dougnote.com/2014/01/testimony-in-strong-opposition-to-bill-6.html"

Ernie Martin's website includes a plea for better housing for the homeless. But he voted to pass on the legislation that criminalizes the homeless! When I talked to him while on a bike ride, he said, "something needs to be done," though he expressed concern for homeless children.

http://www.erniemartin.org/in-the-news/

But HDM adds context: "But right after that [Anderson's bad bill] Ernie Martin introduced Bill 7 which did indeed pass and became ordinance 13-8, the notorious no-knock midnight raid law used in current raids."

Stanley Chang also ran for Congress as a liberal politician. He was endorsed by the Progressive Caucus in the US Congress. Where on his website is mention of homelessness? Nowhere that I see (at least on his "agenda for change" page). He also voted to pass Bills 42, 43, 45, 46, and 48 along.

http://stanleychangforcongress.com/agenda-for-change/ 

On another website, he talks about how the practice of pu`uhonua inspires him, but the writing is too vague to understand what specifically he means:

http://stanleychang.com/priorities/ 

More background from Doug:  "I met Kathryn Xian when she offered to help defeat Stanley Chang's Bill 59 (2013): http://www.dougnote.com/2013/09/no-on-city-council-bill-59.html I caught (here in the beginning of this clip) calling the homeless, "an epidemic of people obstructing the sidewalk.
Carol Fukunaga does not refer to homelessness on her City Council website, but has proposed adding public toilets downtown. Her facebook page informs us that she sponsored Bill 44, the sit-lie down bill that extends the reach of Bill 42 into her area:

"6/25: On Friday, Councilwoman Carol Fuku­naga unveiled Bill 44, which imposes the "sit-lie"ban in an area from River Street to Ward Avenue, makai of the H-1 freeway. Fuku­naga said the homelessness issue is just as acute in that area as it is in Wai­kiki. The Downtown-Chinatown region already has a state-imposed restriction on urination and defecation. -- Team #Carol2014"

http://carolfukunaga.com/public-restrooms-for-urban-honolulu-neighborhoods/ 

More background from Doug:  "Oh, Fukunaga has always been a proponent of the criminalization bills. Here's a clip answering the homeless question posed during a candidates forum": http://youtu.be/W3E8PqFvDgs


Joey Manahan ran for Congress. His statement on homelessness exists, but is plenty vague:

https://www.joeymanahan.com/issues/homelessness/

Ron Menor's site is covered with platitudes; there's no specific mention of homelessness, though there's a photograph of Menor at a food bank.

http://ronmenor.com/whyron.php

Kymberley Marcos Pine's on-line presence is not very specific, though you can see here that she (and Breene Harimoto) have voted against Bills 42 and 45.

http://www4.honolulu.gov/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-150456/BILL042%2814%29.htm 

Doug:  "Kymberly Pine opposed Bill 59 which so literally and directly violates the Kanawai Mamalahoe that she is afraid that the Hawaiians in her district would get upset. I've got a clip of her saying that if you want me to find it." When I (Susan) spoke to her after one Council meeting, she seemed genuine and concerned, and mentioned that she was an English major--

Breene Harimoto did not post this video; H. Doug Matsuoka did. But it speaks volumes. He's opposed to criminalizing homelessness, and he speaks with moral authority.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGCg9iLQI3k 

As Doug points out to me--it comes through in this video--Harimoto believes he's following his Christian faith in supporting the homeless. How one wishes other Christians were as, well, Christian on this issue.

So, bear in mind that these politicians, no matter how liberal the politics they show on their websites might be, have made the decision to run under the radar on this important issue. Or to go for the cliches. Cliches, like the intricate Homeric similes spun by Mr. Kippen (Abercrombie's homeless "czar"), avoid the point by painting beautiful fuzzy and unrelated pictures. Thank goodness Doug takes and archives video of these council meetings and campaign events.


Note: If you like Doug's digital work, you might also be interested to hear that he loves fountain pens and medievalism. Go figure.






Monday, August 18, 2014

"Enforcement tools" as "encouragement": More on the criminalization of homeless on O`ahu

                               [Photo by Krystalle Marcellus]

Beneath this photograph, which is in equal parts amusing and unhelpful, today's Honolulu Star-Advertiser contains a front-page story, "Visitor industry pushes for more help from city," that explains why, at a recent Civil Beat forum on homelessness, the spokesman from Institute for Human Services (IHS) supported efforts to criminalize homelessness. These are Bills 42,  43, 45, 46, and 48 deferred by the City Council right before the primary election, now up for review again (redundantly so) on August 28. The first paragraph makes clear that funding for IHS from the tourist industry depends on the City Council's passing these bills. To help the homeless, in other words, you need to make it illegal to sit on sidewalks or urinate and defecate in public (in areas where there are no public restrooms, mind you).

I went to the Civil Beat panel at Fresh Cafe on August 14 to get better acquainted with the issues and personalities involved in them. On the panel were Collin Kippen, the governor's "homeless czar," Jung Yang, who works for the Mayor, and two men who've had experience running shelters, Jason Espero and Jerry Coffee of IHS. The moderators were Chad Blair and Gene Park. The room was packed with people: activists, homeless people, interested citizens like myself. The personalities were more compelling than the ideas, from Kippen's persistent flights of metaphor and analogy, Yang's more bureaucratic and defensive approach, Espero's earnestness, and Coffee's odd support for criminalization. One of Coffee's "theories" of homelessness is that it is like addiction, that there are cycles of addiction and recovery, relapse and further recovery. Nice theory, but where in it do we find any economic analysis; it would seem to take a village to recover from this problem, not one person with a substance abuse problem. I was so fascinated by this last panel member, for his self-unraveling remarks, that I looked him up when I got home, only to realize he is the son of a POW held in North Vietnam, a man who has authored a book titled Beyond Survival: Building on the Hard Times--a POW's Inspiring Story.

Make of that what you will. While Kippen was amusing the audience with his analogies about lauhala mats, holes, and the abyss; padding outside the wave; salmons and waterfalls and who gets to climb them; and the steep road we're on from which we fall, only to get put back on . . . the best information was provided by one of the questioners during the second hour. He referred to the way in which wages have flattened, but rental and housing prices have not. That many people who work cannot afford housing is true now, and will be more true in the near future. If the median price of a house on O`ahu is now $700,000, and developers are building 22 huge condo towers in Kakaako in the next few years for extremely high prices, then where will ordinary people live? That that sounds like a rhetoric question is evidence that the answers, too, seem only rhetorical.

There's Housing First, which is intended to house the "chronically homeless" first--these are the single men (mostly) who have mental health and substance abuse problems, those who will die on the streets if they're not helped soon. We were each given a lovely booklet about the Mayor's Housing First plans. Discussion of Housing First led to a quarrel with the panel over "stereotyping" the homeless as dirty drug addicts (Kathyrn Xian did a very good job of punching holes in this lauhala mat). I'd rather consider the groups without judgment, but it's clear that a lot of homeless families need immediate housing, too. Housing First passed the City Council, but has not been funded. And, while there are good ideas about micro-housing and other options, no one seems to know where they'll be located. And then there are these bills to criminalize homelessness. We're caught between a policy that is not being permitted to work, and one that will only hide the problem rather than address it in any practical, compassionate way. Brought up in discussion, but never addressed directly, were the developers currently making fortunes in Honolulu building condos largely for people who do not live here.

Which brings us back to the re-introduction of Bills 42, 43, 45, 46, 48 by Councilman Ikaika Anderson, chair of the Zoning Committee. According to today's Star-Advertiser, Anderson wants the criminalization bills to pass, and he complains about the Mayor's not doing enough to implement Housing First. Certainly, the tourist industry is playing hard ball with the council, demanding that these bills pass before they help to fund IHS. But theirs is the language of humanitarianism: "'Oftentimes, we see the visitor industry step up in times of crisis, like a tsunami in Japan, or the Philippines,' Egged said. 'It's more unusual to see it happen for a social crisis, but I think that everyone recognizes the magnitude of this issue for the community." (Rick Egged is the head of the Waikiki Improvement Association.) This after saying that seeing homeless people on the streets is bad for tourism (aka the economy, which trumps everything). Among the other problems, someone from Outrigger declares that the homeless are "not civil," because they steal towels panhandle, and block access to beaches.

Clearly, the people at the Waikiki Improvement Association and at IHS believe in "tough love." IHS's executive director, Connie Mitchell refers to the bills as "deterrents,"believing that when people are forced to move they realize that the shelter is not as bad of an option as they might have originally thought." Such is the "tough love" offered by local business and IHS, now tied together by way of a trade(?) of money for criminalizing the homeless. (Well, if you're not a criminal, you'd make the choice of going to a shelter, they are more than seeming to say.) But if "love" is, on the one side, the desire to make disappear in order to help business and, on the other, a desire to have people use your facilities (rumored to have bed bugs and less than kind staffing), then what is love's opposite?

Note:

Bill 42 prohibits sitting and lying on sidewalks in the Waikiki Special District . . .

Bill 43 prohibits urinating and defecating in public areas in Waikiki

Bill 45 prohibits sitting and lying on sidewalks throughout Oahu

Bill 46 prohibits urinating and defecating in public areas islandwide.

Bill 48 prohibits sitting and lying on the sidewalks during specific times in specific commercial and business areas within Chinatown, downtown, McCully-Moiliili, Waipahu, Kalihi and Kailua.

[from the Star-Advertiser, August 18, 2014]