I attended a Neighborhood Board meeting on Tuesday night. Neighborhood Board meetings are the equivalent of Town Hall Meetings that some communities have. Various officials share information with the community and then open up the floor for feedback. There were three items on Tuesday’s agenda. I’ve already forgotten what the first two were. They were dealt with in less than five minutes. The third item was what brought out a crowd. It was a discussion about the transitional housing community that is to be built abutting my own neighborhood, and the affordable housing that will be the next phase of the same development. The topic was guaranteed to bring out the NIMBYs, and it did.
I’m proud of my neighborhood and of most of the people who took advantage of this forum to educate themselves and to discuss their concerns. The NIMBYs were given little notice as we discussed the very real problems that this development will present. The main street leading to the development is in poor repair, too narrow and unsafe. The utilities (especially water and sewage) are in need of major upgrades. The elementary school is already overcrowded and its old buildings are deteriorating.
My neighbors want the city, county and state to complete corrections on all of the above before construction begins. That’s not an unreasonable stance to take, but it is not my view. Completion will take a lot of time. Meanwhile, we have hundreds of people living on the beaches, waiting for the slow wheels of government to grind. I believe that the various agencies involved can all work together to just get the job done. They can open up another entrance on the back side of the development for the heavy construction traffic, while detouring us to other available roads so that the main entry road can be repaired. Road maintenance can work with the utility departments to coordinate their upgrades. There are unused temporary buildings all over the island that can be brought in for the school to use until permanent new buildings can be built. I think they can do all of this, if they will. The gentleman who spoke to us at the meeting is the head of a special task force formed by the governor. The agencies who will be involved in the work have been ordered to coordinate with him, to give this task top priority. He is competent, and he is passionate about making this happen. Call me naïve, but I believe it can be done, if they all want it to. I don't think getting the work done is the biggest part of the problem. I think community aceptance is. We have it in our power to throw up roadblocks, or to help this dream become a reality.
After the meeting I spoke with Alice, one of the audience members who had spoken quite eloquently to the problems we are facing. Alice has lived on this coast for many years, and she's raised her family here. She’s still doing that, but can’t afford a house anymore. She and her family live in tents on the beach. She has graciously agreed to sit down and talk with me soon, and to introduce me to some of her neighbors on the beach. Alice does not describe herself as homeless. She has a place to stay, and family and friends around her. She describes herself as houseless. It’s a fine distinction, but it tells me that her current circumstances have not beaten her down or warped her priorities.
This is the introduction to what I hope will be a series of posts about the houseless people who are my neighbors. I think it’s important for folks to meet them and get to know them. I hope that by introducing them to others I can help win support for the changes that my community needs to face. We can live with a little inconvenience while this project is being developed. We must, for the good of our community. I don’t have a production schedule. I will continue to do other posts about other things. I still deal with depression and social anxiety disorder, so bear with me when I have bad days and can’t work on this project. But do come back. I want you to meet my neighbors.
Labels: homelessness, houseless, life in Hawaii, social responsibility