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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Our Largely Hidden Shame

Monday, February 20, 2012

Before last week, my last visit to Hawaii was in 1956, courtesy of Uncle Sam. Wanting to return, I started dropping a quarter in a jar every time I made a mistake. You would think that in the intervening 56 years I'd have quite a bundle, right? Wrong, sewage-treatment-plant-breath! $3.75 didn't quite get us there (self deprecating humor is the best kind). The total price of the trip was about the same as a decent 8 year old Chevy.

We were gone nine days, from Des Moines via Denver and then that long flight to Oahu on a 374 passenger Boeing 747-400, reaching 600 MPH. When my Destroyer Escort pulled into Pearl Harbor in the fifties we were greeted by hula dancers on the dock, and the first wave of sailors ashore received a lei and a kiss. Heather and I were greeted with dozens of "alohas" but now a lei (a flower garland for the neck) costs a dollar or more -- and we had to kiss each other.

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The island of Oahu is only 597 square miles and has nearly a million people, one third of Iowa's population. In contrast, Plymouth County has a total area of 864 square miles and 25,000 people. Previously owned Oahu single family homes sold for a median price of $593,000 last year and there isn't much buildable land. Hence, Honolulu is a "vertical" city.

A primary reason for the housing crunch is rich mainlanders and foreigners moving to the Islands, driving prices up. It is difficult to exist on wages paid to service workers, and others not drawing professional salaries.

Given the favorable climate, and the economics, it is no surprise that Hawaii has hundreds, probably thousands, of homeless souls. Some very visible beaches and parks are littered with them, camping with their shopping carts right under signs banning them. Governments everywhere prefer to ignore the problem because solutions overwhelm them. Northwest Iowa and rural Iowa in general, are exceptions.

Longtime Mid-Sioux Opportunity Dick Sievers Director says, "We do have homeless people in our area. There are from 15 to 20 people or about 5 to 10 families each year in our 5 county area that meet the definition of homeless. Quite often people will be living in their car/tent or on the street. Most of the time we are able to find them temporary shelter until permanent shelter can be arranged. Employment is the key to solving their homeless situation. We assist many households each year with rent and utility assistance. Without this support I do believe that many more people would be homeless. We are fortunate to live in Iowa where helping your neighbor is a high priority, where churches, community organizations, government and people in general will make sure that people in need are provided some support."

The Christian Needs Center in Le Mars is another source of assistance.

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When I was about 11 years old, a hobo came to our farm home and asked for food. It was unusual, for we were nine miles from the railroad at Kingsley, and 14 miles from the nearest paved road. Those were trusting times (I never had a key) and my mother prepared a lunch for the polite man, who ate it on our porch.

My opinion of homeless people has fluctuated considerably since that somewhat positive visit from a man who appeared non-threatening. From disgust for those in San Francisco in the '50's, it didn't improve much until recent years. While there are those who don't want to work and they drive our negativity, I now realize that many suffer from anxiety disorders and antisocial behavior that prevent them from living a normal life. They either fall below the standard for institutionalizing, or cannot tolerate it. There are teens that have been kicked out of their home, victims of domestic violence, veterans suffering PTSD, and those who want to work but cannot find work.

It is wrong to categorize a large number of these people as bums, deadbeats, drug addicts and the like, but it is easy to throw a quarter, look the other way, and think you have done something. This is not the solution.

Many Hawaiian homeless are indeed current or former addicts, but many are also respectable people, often entire families, whose only "crime" is that they cannot afford a place to live. On some beaches, night shelters are loaded into the owner's station wagon, van or even SUV, each morning. School buses stop to pick up homeless "beach" children and many of the homeless adults are far from indigent, and drive to their jobs.

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Still remembering that hobo trudging down the dusty road, I am Don Paulin, 2carpenterdon@gmail.com, 7557 30th Av, Norwalk, IA 50211 - 515-201-7236 -30-

By Don Paulin
Been There, Done That


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