Dawn Fraser Kawahara, a frequent contributor to the Guest Opinion section of the Garden Island implored readers to brainstorm and submit ideas for creative solutions to homelessness on April 15. I am submitting this piece in response to her request.
Viktor Frankl wrote in his 1946 book “Man’s Search for Meaning” about the horrors of German concentration camps during World War II. He noted that no matter how difficult life was, that it was the choice of each individual to focus on either the positive or negative aspects of his situation.
I reflected on the significance of this as it pertains to the homeless issue. A fundamental mistake we are making is promoting personal choice over social welfare. We Americans seem to value the sanctity of personal choice above everything else.
Personal choice is more important than the effect those choices have on others, because individual “rights” are sacrosanct. I have not heard one positive effect of being homeless. Not on health, physically or mentally. Not on public safety or sanitation. Homelessness is already immoral. I propose making homelessness illegal.
It has been said many times that the reasons for homelessness are as varied as are the number of homeless. To propose singular solutions to such a varied causation is useless. The answer is not more homes, higher wages, education, encampments, money, welfare, charity, or religion.
The answer is for our government to gather the political will and resources to declare homelessness not an option for anyone. Only government can do this, and it will only happen when those that govern accept their responsibility to solve the problem of homelessness and take the actions necessary to eliminate it.
Here on Kauai, we have an island with a homeless population of 300-400, depending on who’s counting. We have a new mayor who has said “We’re a new generation that’s willing to do things differently because we understand to reach some of these solutions is going to require a different approach. Nothing changes if nothing changes.”
So, the first step, Mayor Kawakami, is to declare homelessness not an option. By doing this, you will recognize the need to provide other options to those that are presently homeless. That will require resources that do not exist now and need to be created. Personnel to assess, direct, and counsel. Shelters to feed and house those in transition. Laws to enable enforcement and compliance. Facilities for the mentally ill. Drug and alcohol treatment centers.
It can be done. Witness another island in the world: Singapore. This city/state/country is known for transitioning from a developing country to a developed country in one generation under the leadership of a “benevolent despot”.
On any night in Singapore, a city of 5.6 million, there are about 180 people sleeping in the streets. Most of these have disputes with family members or co-tenants, or wish to be closer to their workplaces due to lack of transport options from home, according to the Ministry for Social and Family Development, the agency charged with eliminating homelessness. If we were as proportionately successful on our own island, our homeless population would be two husbands in the doghouse for the night.
In order to solve any problem, it is necessary to have two factors in place; willingness, and ability. Either that exists without the other will lead to failure. The most willing that is incompetent will fail. The most able that is unwilling will fail. As it regards the homelessness issue, it appears that willingness is high, but ability is low.
We dance all around the problem by shutting down areas for homeless rather than shutting down homelessness. We have homelessness directors in DLNR. We post signs of no camping. We just move the problem instead of solving it. Let’s be willing and able. Let’s end homelessness on Kauai.
Nolan Ahn is a resident of Lihue.
Source: The Garden Island