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May 8, 2013

Robert and James Sharing coffee"I am not homeless, just house less".  In response to the question asked of James, was just one of the many surprises to be revealed by James to the old geezer.

Some nine months ago, I walked up on James sleeping on a bus stop bench, in the wee hours of the morning.  It is my habit to go for a walk and have a cuppa, most times long before the sun rises in the sky.

Getting the courage to approach, armed with a hot cup of coffee, I walked up to James and introduced myself.  I was curious as to why an older man would be in such a situation.

Over time, like peeling back the layers of an onion, I have come to know James rather well.  Truth be told, I consider James my friend, and I look forward to seeing him each morning.

James is 70 years old, has lived in Hawaii for 28 odd years, and until 6 years ago maintained an apartment.  James is retired, gets a social security check, is not a drug addict or alcoholic.  I have learned much of the 'why' as to his present situation, but still do not entirely understand it.  What I have learned, is that being homeless is due to a variety of reasons and there are no easy answers to solving the situation.

James does not beg for cash, buys his own meals, washes his clothes, bathes and deals with the mean attitude of some folks directed at him due to his 'luggage' and weather beaten appearance.  Right clever James is.  He has a membership to a gym, allowing him to clean up, pays for a storage area to store the belongings he can not carry with and has a tarp to cover self when the rain comes.  However clever James tries to be, some aspects of living uncovered can not be solved.

James does not really sleep at night.  He 'rests', to get up when the park is open and try to sleep during the day.  Like many homeless, James feels somewhat 'safe' to be sitting at a bus stop.  If one can really be safe living on the street, dealing with the weird folks who wander the night looking to rob and abuse the weaker homeless.

James is well aware of IHS and the shelter offered. James does not feel comfortable being around the rough characters that seem to populate the shelter.  James is not overly fond of folks who do drugs or are alcoholic.  Being an older gentleman, who walks with the aid of a cane, the ideal of trying to get down on the floor and sleep on a mat is scary.  James is also aware of programmes for former members of the armed services.  James served honorably in the Army.  The idea of living in a shared room with someone addicted to drugs or alcohol, in the middle of nowhere, at a cost of $700.00, is not an option he feels works for him.

There will be folks who feel that James is the creator of his own horrid situation.  He has cash and should be able to get a place and not live on the street.  Like I said in the beginning, there are no easy answers.  James feels that he has as much right as the next person to be able to 'enjoy' some of the delights that Hawaii, or more specific Waikiki, has to offer.  The bright lights and constant action draw his just as easily as the tourist or the local day trippers visiting in Waikiki.

Sitting with James every morning has been a real education.  I have seen folks move away from the area due to his 'homeless' appearance.  I have seen James mistreated in a restaurant.  I have seen James forced to get up from a bench, on 'private' property, due to his 'homeless' appearance, while I am not asked to leave.

I have witnessed tourists and locals alike, come up to James in the early morning, giving small amounts of cash and food.

I do not know why there has to be anyone sleeping on a bench.

IHS, local non-profits, newspaper and local government bang on endlessly about the homeless problem on Oahu.  Many promises are made, but few are kept.  The old guard, IHS springs to mind, collect data, continue to operate redundant shelters, perhaps to collect endless streams of cash to continue programmes that have never solved the homeless problem or properly addressed the needs of folks like James.

James does not have much.  That does not stop him from sharing what little he has with others less fortunate than himself.  Like providing for daily needs of another homeless person who has nothing.  Sharing his cash with others.  Giving to his church that he attends twice a week.

James is my friend.  I worry about him every time it rains all night.  I worry about his lack of proper toilet facilities.  I offer a little 'tea and sympathy' each and every day.  I care.  I just wish there was an easy answer to James' situation.

Truth be told, folks like James are ignored so oft, the very agencies offering help do not see him.  It is so much easier to troll the usual places that draw the homeless, than really look at different sides to the homeless condition in Hawaii.

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Posted: Wednesday May 8, 2013, 12:39 pm
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Rob Defrees
male, age 68, single
Hilo, HI, USA
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