Homelessness, Death and the American Nightmare

Photo Credit: Kiran Opal @kiranopal

I wrote about a relative visiting last summer who had addiction and mental health issues. We found out this morning the sad news that he has died. He was stabbed on the night of January 21, 2017 in Honolulu Hawaii, near a homeless tent city. The circumstances of his death are gruesome and tragic. We are shocked and saddened by his sudden and rather unexpected death. Though he has been homeless for a while, Honolulu is a safer place to be homeless than say Los Angeles. In fact, Hawaii is called a homeless person’s paradise, if there’s anything more sickening than that. There is mild weather all year round so they won’t freeze to death in the winter or overheat in the summer . There are many shelters and places to go for meals provided for by the state government or local charities, and they even have places to shower and clean up. Hawaii has the highest homeless persons per capita in the United States. Being homeless in Hawaii, sadly, especially post 2008 recession has become just another fact of life. Homeless encampments and ‘tent cities’ crop up in various abandoned industrial buildings in downtown Honolulu and other public parks. They aren’t subject to police harassment as long as they stay out of tourist areas such as Waikiki Beach and life goes on in parallel universes between the rich tourists who fly in for the weekend from Japan or the Philippines and go shopping and then fly home, the housed and the homeless.

This relative is my husband’s son from a previous marriage. He is my two children’s older half brother. Though his one and only visit in our home was a bit fraught due to his mental health issues, I am forever grateful my children got to meet him. My daughter being older at 4 years old has fond memories of her ‘big brother’. For all of his troubles, mental health issues (he’s a possible schizophrenic), drug addiction and homelessness, he was gentle and kind to his younger siblings. He was always a gentle, kind and sentimental person. He expresses deep love and affection for all of his family and friends. ‘Sweet’ would be an accurate description of his nature. His death, in such a violent and gruesome fashion is devastating for his parents, his siblings, cousins, extended family and friends. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. He fell down the rabbit hole and there was no safety net to catch him.

He grew up in a solidly middle class family, he got good grades but somewhere in high school, like many adolescents he began experimenting with drugs and while he had periods of sobriety, full time sobriety eluded him.  It was a roller coaster of drug abuse and periods of sobriety where he had a job, a place to live and functioned normally. In the last couple of years, he began having hallucinations and violent outbursts as a result of those hallucinations. They mimicked symptoms of schizophrenia but it’s unclear if he’s really schizophrenic or the result of his many years of drug taking since the state of Hawaii pours its budget into beautifying tourist areas and not taking care of its people. Like many homeless people, getting in trouble with law enforcement comes hand in hand with being rootless and rudderless. He was under probation when he died. His probation officer was a kind lady who tried to help him, but how does law enforcement expect a homeless person without a car to get to classes, appointments and court hearings on time or at all. Every time he misses a hearing or appointment, it goes against his criminal record. He was in a cycle of getting trouble with the law and being homeless. And in this great nation of ours, having a criminal record basically renders you unemployable for life. He came from a middle class family, became a proletariat and died as a lumpenproletariat.

Over the holidays, when his family and friends in Hawaii couldn’t find him anywhere (he’s normally quite easy find and they bring him food and other necessities and he also goes to a relative’s house to get some of his other belongings and takes showers), I got a bad feeling. In recent months, he’s gone longer and longer before being seen and when he was spotted, he was seen talking to himself or inanimate objects. Even as recent as May of 2016, he had a full time job and rented a room, but as his violent outbursts became more frequent, he lost his job, couldn’t pay his rent and became homeless again. Being an adult who isn’t sectioned by the state, his parents nor his family could do much to commit him to treatment, even if Hawaii didn’t have a waiting list for any type of treatment facility a mile long. He’d have to go voluntarily but the need is so dire in Hawaii, it could be months perhaps a year before he’s admitted anywhere.

Neoliberalism, just like caption suggests, he would score points for being Asian and neoliberals don’t want anything bad to happen to him on the account of being Asian, but him dying a violent and horrific death as a result of being homeless due to mental health issues, having a criminal record and not finishing his college degree so that he can remain in the class in which he was born, well, that’s just too bad. To conservatives he is a ‘loser’, to liberals, he needs more ‘education and training’, to neoliberals it’s just tough luck, social darwinism. Over Christmas dinner, while discussing our concern for not being able to find him, I said that it’s not an accident that our relative and dear friend is in the situation he is in with next to no help besides sleeping in the county jail. He was put there by the 1% and the policies they helped our government influence. The state of Hawaii is flooded with homeless people but its a tourists paradise. Homelessness is at crisis levels. Our friends who live in Hawaii have observed this alarming trend for over one year, yet with all of the empty buildings downtown, all of the vacant boarded up houses, there is no government policy or action to quickly refurbish these places and give the homeless people a permanent bed to sleep on every night and three hot meals a day. How are the homeless supposed to ‘get back on their feet’ if they don’t even have a place to live and regular meals? If they’ve no permanent address or phone number how are they supposed to fill out job applications (assuming there are jobs of course, because according to Republicans and Democrats alike, there are jobs everywhere, you just have to look hard enough)?

And before anyone asks the million dollar question, ‘where are his parents and family in all of this?’ His father and siblings has offered all the help they can, I personally have spent hours on the phone finding a spot for him in rehab facilities and hospitals and trying to get him any type of assistance he can qualify for, people have taken turns going to Honolulu to see that he’s taken care of. He is unable to leave the state of Hawaii until he finishes his probation requirements, but that’s near impossible when you are living on the streets, mentally ill and broke. At the end of the day, he is a grown man, he has a lot of pride, and a lot of shame and embarrassment for his situation, especially when he sees his siblings graduate from college, moving on with their lives yet he’s stuck in a cycle of joblessness, poverty and homelessness, he doesn’t always want our help. Like many people in crisis, when asked how they are doing, the stock answer is “I am fine”.

We have no idea what happened which led him to being stabbed to death, he always had street smarts, he was the kid who could talk his way out of trouble, squirm his way out of tough spots, he doesn’t go looking for fights nor does he get in stupid confrontations over nothing. His father told him again and again, someone comes at you with a knife, run the opposite direction.

I have no answers on what to do, I only have anger and rage. Rest in Peace.

14 thoughts on “Homelessness, Death and the American Nightmare

  1. re: “We have no idea what happened which led him to being stabbed to death”

    I could have been anything, perhaps the most trivial fight you can imagine.

    I had no idea about Hawaii’s homeless problem, but it does make sense. I can’t imagine being homeless in Chicago in the winter, but being homeless in Hawaii or Southern California sounds almost bearable.

    But of course homeless means becoming unmoored from any sense of order and if as you say he had periodic bursts of rage, that might have gotten into a conflict that proved fatal.

    I can’t really imagine a solution other than building or renovating a lot of housing stock and expanding drug treatment programs. That makes sense but even that would be no guarantee.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What you call ‘manageable’ is what’s driving the problem. Because it’s not so terrible. It’s now normal. Even acceptable that tens of thousands are homeless. And I don’t know if you’ve been to Oahu – I have and it’s a ‘small’ island. And when you leave the tourist areas of wikiki beach & shopping centers. You see poverty everywhere. Falling down homes which need repairs – inhabited. There are no good jobs except manual labor, retail or hospitality. None of which pay well.


      1. Well I said “bearable” (looking at the issue from the homeless person’s point of view”) not “manageable” (looking at it from the state’s point of view) but point taken. It’s the “new normal” in Hawaii.

        I do remember something similar happening in California in the 80s and 90s. California was relatively warm compared to the Rocky Mountain states and the Pacific Northwest, so a lot of homeless people concentrated there. But the response from local government was to make it more difficult for the homeless to survive, not get them any real help.

        Homeless in NYC was also “the new normal” in the 1980s until Giuliani came along. He simply unleashed the cops and drove the homeless out of the main tourist areas. Where are they now?


  2. I have a close relative who is in a similar situation – not homeless but unable to cope independently and live productively. He too had a drug problem early in life.

    Somewhere along the line a loss of confidence developed within him. And so he got caught up in a downward vortex unable to break free of the maelstrom.

    What can be done? Our governments are pretty good at providing Band-Aids and stopgap measures but not so good at providing skills that might help these people break free of that vortex.

    Our governments are also not good at fostering a society that minimizes the forces and stresses that lead to drugs, crime and hopelessness. Indeed our governments often work against a healthy society.

    Where will the solution come? Not from government. Sadly, our government got bought off and now works for Corporate America, that is to say, Murder Incorporated.

    We as private citizens are going to have to figure it out.


    1. They tried “1000 Points of Light” in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was simply propagandistic cover for the neglect of the homeless. Government involvement is exactly what we need. We need more public housing, bettr public healthcare, and above all, public psychiatric care. Sadly none of that is likely to happen under Trump.


      1. I think the larger point is the government wants all of these people to just go away so they don’t have to deal with it. They’ve been written off. Downtrodden, homeless, mentally ill, drug addicted. all of them.


      2. 1000 points of light came from Ronald Reagan. It had nothing to do with homelessness. Ronald Reagan used the phrase to contrast the ingenuity of individuals free to work on their own versus the imbecility of an ossified government politburo that listens to no one even as it churns out ever more unworkable solutions.


        1. The bottom line is and this is an indisputable fact, there is PLENTY of housing and PLENTY of money/food to feed everybody. And there is plenty of land, no one should be homeless and hungry. No one. I don’t care why. Right to shelter/food/warm clothing is a human right for all people. Nothing to do with if you deserve it or not, if you ‘worked’ for it or not, or if you are human enough, whatever. Land on this earth was ‘free’ until people assigned value to it and buy it and sell (or steal it) it at the expense of the vulnerable.
          Reagan’s whole thing of you have to work and prove yourself to deserve anything is disgusting and conservatism, liberalism and libertarianism at its worst.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. It came from George H.W. Bush and it was exactly about homelessness.

          Neil Young even immortalized it in a song.

          We got a thousand points of light
          For the homeless man
          We got a kinder, gentler,
          Machine gun hand

          And Ronald Reagan was a piece of shit who created the homelessness epidemic in the 80s in the first place.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. “The most dramatic cut in domestic spending during the Reagan years was for low-income housing subsidies. Reagan appointed a housing task force dominated by politically connected developers, landlords and bankers. In 1982 the task force released a report that called for “free and deregulated” markets as an alternative to government assistance – advice Reagan followed. In his first year in office Reagan halved the budget for public housing and Section 8 to about $17.5 billion. And for the next few years he sought to eliminate federal housing assistance to the poor altogether.”


          Liked by 1 person

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