Seeing homeless people in Hawaii was unexpected

By Michele Zirkle Marcum - Contributing Columnist

Editor’s Note: Listen to the podcast of this column.

Homeless in Hawaii.

The lady had obviously wet herself. She was sitting on a bench in downtown Waikiki, Oahu pants soaked and barely moving — seeming to be more comfortable with her predicament than I was.

She reached for one of the numerous bags beside her, slowly as if urgency wasn’t required. Perhaps this was her way of maintaining the appearance that all was well even though it wasn’t. I found out later, she defecated on the sidewalk just moments after I’d passed by.

I felt embarrassed on her behalf. I was even more empathetic to her situation when I learned that most of the businesses in this tourist district advertise “No Public Restrooms,” and hotel lobby restrooms have coded locks, the combination to which only guests may obtain. So it’s likely that the lady was unable to access a restroom facility in a timely fashion.

Getting to the restroom can be tricky for any traveler, but my heart was nevertheless saddened by her dilemma.

Hobos are strewn from the mountainside parks to the pristine beaches in Hawaii. Bodies hug the beaches where sandy shorelines create pillows for their homeless heads. Men, women and children alike, huddle along the side streets lined with swaying palm trees.

Many chose to be homeless here in Hawaii where the climate is friendly year round — there are harsher states in which one could be living on the fly, but the weather is the up-side of the trade-off here where restroom privileges are very much for the privileged.

According to an article in November 2015 by the Los Angeles Times, approximately 5,000 of the 8,000 homeless people in Hawaii live on the island of Oahu. This reflects an increase between 2014 and 2015 of a whopping 46 percent.

I hadn’t expected such sights of despair. Sure, I was delighted to see the plentiful, breathtaking views — the shorelines weaving along the edges of water so many shades of blue that Picasso would be jealous; the cascading waterfalls deep inside rainforests with trails that had no end; the waves crashing against the lighthouse laden cliffs where a seal lay napping.

What I didn’t realize is that, like the seal sprawling spread-eagle where the sea deposited him, many people in Hawaii stop and drop wherever their tide of troubles carries them.

Just as surprising as seeing so many homeless here is the story of how many of them purportedly got here. Many Hawaiian natives I spoke with believe that states on the mainland send their homeless here to alleviate the burden of providing benefits to them out of their own state funds; however, I was unable to verify that mainland states actually engage in this practice.

To combat the influx, in 2013, Hawaii passed legislation that allocated funds for a one-way ticket out of Hawaii for those who wanted to return “home.”

By some accounts, the high cost of housing is to blame. Two-bedroom apartments run $1,800 a month — double the average mortgage payment in many states. Some speculate that the abundance of low-paying jobs is to blame.

However they got here and whatever keeps them blowing towards the beaches of Oahu, the homeless in Hawaii are drowning, sometimes in their own urine, lost like the Lumurians near Maui who succumbed to the surrounding waters of the Pacific.

Each night shelters on the island are at least 600 beds shy of meeting the need for a clean, sheltered place to sleep and to use the bathroom.

Although many of the homeless in Hawaii are hanging their hats on a grocery cart rather than a hook inside their front door, I can only hope that those who drift to this lush garden seeking a place to park their buggy for a bit, find peace in the sunshine and a handy place to potty.

I know I’m much more inclined to say “Aloha” when my bladder’s not busting.

By Michele Zirkle Marcum

Contributing Columnist

Michele Zirkle Marcum is a native of Meigs County and an author. Her column appears each Tuesday.

Michele Zirkle Marcum is a native of Meigs County and an author. Her column appears each Tuesday.