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.