Tragic normalization of homelessness and failure

On one level, the recent TV news story about a Waianae family that spent two months living by choice in the huge boat harbor homeless encampment to learn life lessons was sweet and inspiring.  In that sense, I commend this family for their compassion.

But on another level, this story just underscores what a complete failure of leadership that encampment really represents.

This illegal encampment has become firmly rooted for more than a decade.  The family, which included 12 children, moved there after meekly asking permission from the established residents, who have erected signs warning non-residents to keep out.

The family built a large structure to live in, outfitted it with cooking facilities and water pipes, planted gardens and caught fish.  Obviously, nobody stopped them or their neighbors from doing any of this on state land.  And nobody provided them or their new neighbors with more reasonable and sanitary accommodations.

Like I said, on one level this is a nice story that makes you feel good about the willingness of ordinary people to share their compassion and their humanity.

But if you step back a little, it really shows that authorities have failed miserably to provide reasonable alternatives to this abject poverty, neglect, and squalor.  And make no mistake, that’s exactly what we’re talking about here.

The news reporter even referred to the encampment repeatedly as “the village,” as if it were a reasonable and acceptable situation rather than a grubby makeshift refugee camp.  The report didn’t even mention that the encampment is completely illegal but has been quietly tolerated by authorities who can’t come up with anything better and have just chosen to look the other way and shirk all responsibility.

And before anyone gets excited, I’m not demonizing the camp’s residents or accusing them of being bad people.  I’m saying that these living conditions are a terrible reflection on our society and that they should not be romanticized or normalized like this.

The Waianae Boat Harbor homeless camp may be a testament to the ability of very marginalized people to organize some semblance of a community and to effectively govern themselves the best that they can.

But it is also an unmistakable monument to the abject failure of the larger society and its leaders to come up with anything better or prevent the problems from getting even worse.



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