By Jay Fidell
Have you seen "The Soloist"? Great movie, an award winner, but there's more there than just the acting and the the human study. It's about one of the greatest social problems of our times.
An underlying message of the movie, one you can hardly forget watching it, is the homeless in LA. There are 90,000 of them, and they live in a different world, a world without hope. And no one is doing much for them.
There are not as many in Honolulu, but there are thousands anyway, and they also live in a world substantially without hope. No one is doing much for them, and they grow in number.
Barack Obama says if the Japanese can build great hybrids, then why can't we. Well, if we can go to the moon, and build great hybrids, then why can't we solve the homeless problem too.
Some of the threads in the movie could be helpful. People on the street can be helped - it's just a matter of resocializing them, of giving them individual human contact, friends like Mr. Lopez. So little can do so much.
Time works against us. The longer a person is isolated on the street, even a relatively normal person, the more likely he or she is to develop mental illness.
So the mission is to get them off the streets and into places where they can relate to others.
Shelters may work to slow the descent of recent arrivals to the street, but for the long-term street people, we've got to move fast.
Jobs, especially now. A friend of mine suggested that they key was the past, the Depression, where we had federal programs like the CCC (the Civilian Conservation Corps) and the WPA (the Works Progess Administration) and the PWA (Public Works Administration). They built things and their self-esteem in the process.
We've got to get them out rebuilding our trails and parks and our roads and infrastructure. How hard would that be? But we have impediments now that we didn't have in the 1930's. I don't think the unions would like the CCC, the WPA or the PWA these days. And what about all those hiring issues, protections and exposures. How many employers would take the chance?
If we could make it easier for people to hire from the street, more employers would do just that. All we've got to do is develop a program that makes it easy for employers.
A special category of labor, perhaps, that would allow lower wages and excuse employers from certain obligations, would yield more jobs for more people who might not otherwise be able to get a job, especially in these hard times.
Is anyone working on this? It's more than a soup kitchen, it's creating a way of life for people who have no lives except in the street.
Those people in The Soloist were living in the Seventh Circle, and we have people living there too. Instead of ignoring them, or shuttling them around from park to park and shelter to shelter, let's link jobs with food and give them basic housing.
All this is clearly possible. The first thing to do is find out who they are. That would mean getting a database together from the various organizations that feed the homeless and then reaching out and bringing people into a rational and compassionate system. And tracking their progress on that database so no one falls off again.
As in The Soloist, Mr. Avery didn't want to leave his shopping cart and street haunts, but Mr. Lopez did find there were ways to encourage him to do that. We can do the same thing - by offering thoughtful incentives to people you can change their behavior, despite mental illness.
On occasion, you can even reconnect them with the families they left behind, which is a good deed beyond description. There's always a way, even if it's challenging.
Teach for America is a teaching organization that has found a place for bright young kids to get into the system and do profoundly helpful things in the schools. Can't we develop a similar organization that can do good works on the street?
If would be wonderful for everyone involved, and it would be a great statement about Hawaii's big heart for the disadvantaged. If someone asks you to participate in some way, please do.
A recession is the worst of times for the homeless but it's also the best of times to address the problem. What are we waiting for?