Jayne slid into driver seat of her 2015 white Lincoln MKZ, plugged her iPhone 6s Plus into the USB, selected R.H.R.’s CD from her play list, added her destination to her GPS, put on her seat belt, took the ponytail holder out of her hair; checked the time on her two carat diamond studded Bolova, started the vehicle, opened the panoramic roof, and pulled out of the airport parking lot headed towards her new home along Kalanianaole Highway; a 23-minute drive.
The feel of the trade winds rushing though the open windows was exhilarating, Jayne exhaled. In her excitement she turned right instead of left; the traffic light ahead of her changed to red. Jayne looked around then smiled when she saw the marina.
This would make a great photo shoot Jayne thought. She looked around for the street name to make a mental note when a rusted chain linked fence surrounding a vacant building caught her eye. The fence ran the length of the block on the main street then wrapped around the corner down the side street. The sign read Dead End. Blue tarps and tents tied to the chain linked fence, lining the sidewalk as far as Jayne could see.
A rusted five-pound coffee can sit on the sidewalk with a sign leaning against the side of the first tarp. It read, “I am a veteran; any amount of money you can spare will help, thank you, God bless.” Next to the blue tarp stood a red tent. An old woman swept away leaves and picked up paper out front. A younger Hawaiian woman stood on the sidewalk brushing her toddler’s hair back into a ponytail. Two other small children were racing down the street.
The sound of car horns jolted Jayne. The red light was now green. Jayne pulled off—the sun no longer bright and warm against her skin, the trade winds felt thick. Jayne pulled out of traffic into a gas station, parked and turned off the car; turned off the music. Jayne sat there in silence; her mind racing. She had been on the island several times for work over the last couple of years, but she had never seen anything like that. Jayne grabbed her red Prada Galleria bag off the floor next to her. She mindlessly walked down the isles of the gas station, headed to the refrigerator section and bought a bottle of Fuji water. She leaned against her SUV sipping the water and gathering her thoughts. She took a screen shot of the GPS, then headed home.
“Turn left onto Kalanianaole Highway, your destination will be on the right,” the GPS instructed. Jayne stopped at the gate entered her security code and smiled as she watched the white wrought iron entry doors slide open. She left her luggage in the laundry room then paused in the doorway of the den to appreciate the curved staircase made with iron balusters.
Jayne headed to the lanai, slipped off her ivory and grey Prada sneakers and laid down on the blue chaise lounge allowing her head to sink into the pillow. She closed her eyes and listened to the waves of the tide roll into the beach then back out.
It was dark when Jayne opened her eyes. She had been sleep for hours. The flight from the East Coast had taken eleven hours. Groceries would be her first priority in the morning.
Jayne strolled into Safeway grabbed a red cart, put her reusable bags in the basket, her grocery list on top, then scanned the store for the dairy aisle. Jayne searched the refrigerated shelves for her favorite brand of orange juice. As she reached for it her arm stopped in midair—the price affixed to the shelf read $12.99. Jayne stepped back and looked at the rest of the price tags on the shelf. They were all the same give or take a few cents. She rolled her eyes and sighed. “I am not paying $12.99 for orange juice,” speaking out loud. Jayne’s stroll turned into a slow walk as she pushed her cart down the aisle headed to the produce department.
The bright yellow letters outlined in red over the tomatoes read, SALE! As she approached the Roma tomatoes she frowned, removed her head phones and laid them on top of her bag “$5.99 a pound,” Jayne sighed a long sigh. “This is not a sale!” A woman with blonde hair, bright red lipstick, wearing a white maxi dress standing behind her giggled. “You are new to the Island,” she asked. Jayne shook her head, yes. “You will get used to the prices, darling,” she spoke with an accent. “I had the same experience when I started coming here, that was 25 years ago.” Jayne responded, “I refuse to pay $5.99 for a tomato.” This time the woman laughed and extended her hand. “My name is Alyssa, I am from Queens, New York.” Jayne shook her hand, “It is great to meet you Alyssa.” “I’m Jayne, from Brooklyn.” Alyssa smiled, “We are family!” Alyssa pulled out a pen and paper, “We must get together for lunch I have a condo in Waikiki.” “I am headed to a friend’s this morning for breakfast.” Alyssa continued, “If you want good prices on food you must shop in China Town, but go early.” “Most of the shops close before noon.” “Parking over there is hell—Lower Manhattan style, darling.” Alyssa smiled again. “It is cheaper to eat out if you know where to eat, I will teach you when I have time, I better run I don’t want to be late.”
Alyssa was right—Lower Manhattan China Town on the Island of O’ahu. The one way streets, looking out for the pedestrians, and trying to find a parking space—so New York.
Blocks away from China Town Jayne found a parking space. There was a park on the corner; Aala International Park. Jayne could see China Town in the distance. She headed to the walkway that snaked through the park. It was early spring the trees were in bloom, playground equipment for the children and large open spaces with park benches throughout. Suddenly Jayne was overcome with the foul smell of urine. She held her breath and picked up her pace. As she got closer to the monkey bars she saw towels and clothing hanging over the bars to dry, a couple was sitting on a bench nearby.
Cardboard was in a pile and tied with rope it laid in the grass alone side several plastic grocery bags. A man sleeping, a woman sitting across from him, a pile of cardboard underneath her, in one hand a brown paper bag, it was rolled down neatly and hugged a can, a cigarette in the other, she smiled at Jayne as she rushed by. Many people were sitting in the grass, some gathered in a small groups talking, others off to themselves; a few engaged in conversation with the wind or an imaginary person sitting next to them. At the end of the park people were sitting on the concrete walls that surrounded the public bathrooms. There was a small hill just beyond the edge of the park, a canal at the bottom–Nuuana Stream. Jayne remembered the tents and tarps on the dead-end street. Jayne forced to stop at the corner—oncoming traffic. As Jayne reached the other side she said out loud, “This is not my problem.”
Finally home after a long work day, Jayne flipped the channels until she found the local news. A brunette with dark eyes was reporting; with a tone of seriousness and a look of concern she said, “Tom Brower, The State Representative, was attacked by a gang of homeless people while walking though one of the camps.” “He was taken to a nearby hospital, and later released.” “Representative Brower states he is not going to press charges against his attackers.” Jayne turned off the television, showered and got in bed. She laid there remembering the dead-end street and the top of the hill of the canal by China Town. They are all alcoholics, crazies, and drug addicts she thought, and drifted off to sleep.
Jayne woke at four twenty-three a.m. The story of the homeless attackers still on her mind. She searched the internet for the story, mapped her route, put her camera batteries in the charger, went through her morning routine waiting for daylight.
She found a parking space on Lana Lane across from the Porsche of Hawaii dealership. She could see tents from the car. She put her Olympus point and shoot in the back right pocket of her white denim shorts, pulled the baby blue shirt tail out of her shorts to conceal her pockets, slung her black camera backpack over her shoulder and ran across the street. Jayne’s stride slowed when she turned onto Cooke Street by Kaka’ako Makai Gateway Park.
A little girl with uncombed brunette hair emerged from a tent. A long pink My Kitty t-shirt hung to her knees, a blue and red beach towel draped over her shoulder; a white plastic shopping bag swung from her left wrist, she clutched clothes against her stomach. She walked past a couple of tents, stopped and waited. A taller girl in blue shorts, white Camisole top and blue flip-flops emerged from the green tent. The taller girl also had a towel, tan plastic bag, and a change of clothes. As the two of them walked towards the street other girls in their age group joined them. Jayne walked on. She could hear someone sweeping up ahead. The sun now in her eyes.
In the middle of the block there was a woman sweeping. She had long dark hair pulled back in a ponytail with a yellow scrunchie, long loose strands of hair fell down her forehead. She was wearing a yellow sun dress with white plumeria lei flowers on it. The center of the flowers matched the yellow background of her dress. As Jayne passed her she smiled, and said “Hello.” Jayne watched her sweep the trash onto a piece of cardboard then she dumped it into the black mesh aluminum trash can lined with a white plastic bag at the side of her tent.
Two teen-aged boys on bikes stopped in front of a large heavy-duty black vinyl tarp tent. The front of the tarp rolled up and tied off. There were several black vinyl tarps attached to each other; a back, two sides, one used as a ceiling and the rolled up one in front. Inside of the tarp there was a man standing behind a counter (it was a door placed on top of two tall wooden stools.) A boy sat on a wooden stool at the end of the counter with a bowl of food in front of him. He swung his legs back and forth as he ate. Red, blue, and green ice coolers stacked four coolers high and three coolers long were behind the man standing at the counter. He opened one, handed each teen a can, the taller boy handed him money and they left.
There were wood flats stacked with cases of bottled water, soda, and juice. As Jayne slowed her pace, the man rushed from behind the counter came outside, smiled and said, “Good morning,” then disappeared into the tarp next to the first one—identical in structure. The next moment Jayne heard Donnie McClurkin singing Stand. The volume at a level that could be heard for blocks. Jayne stopped and looked back at the tarp. At the end of the second black tarp were five portable generators, pots and pans, three four burner hot plates and two grills for outdoor cooking, car batteries, jumper cables, and two stacks of green plastic chairs. Jayne walked on, discretely taking pictures.
She found herself at the end of Ohe Street. A muscular middle-aged black man was taking his trash to a dumpster at the edge of the grass. Jayne approached his light blue vinyl tarps. The front was tied back to allow the trade winds to pass through to the second tarp that was open on the far end. Inside the tarps framed art hung from wire grid panels. The art spaced to divide one area from another. The largest framed art work was a picture of Jesus knocking on a door holding a lamb. Across from the picture there were three leather computer chairs. The first two chairs had red rectangular milk crates sitting between them. In a stack of four. The bottom shelf was full of CD’s. The two middle shelves housed family photographs; a couple were antique. The top shelf had books, writing tablets, and a pencil holder full of pencils and markers. The third high back computer chair looked like it was a Herman Miller Mirra Chair, it sat alone facing the other chairs.
There was a mattress and box spring on the floor with a thick black throw rug in the middle of the tarp. His bed housed a red comforter with five pillows all with a red pillow sham. Against the back of the tarps were rows of jeans on hangers hung on wire grid panels. Three rows in all. Shoe boxes were stacked six rows across and four rows high, giving the jeans enough space at the bottom to hang free.
There was a bookcase facing the bed, the bottom shelf had sweaters and sweat shirts folded neatly. The fourth shelf had t-shirts folded in rows of three stacked to the top of the shelf; all color coordinated. The third shelf housed wife beaters and shorts. The second shelf was for his boxer briefs and socks. On the top of the book-case sat a white Big Ben alarm clock with silver trim and bells, glow in the dark hands and numbers, and an open bible.
Outside the end of the second tarp there was a stainless steel step trash can, a two burner hot plate, three generators, gas cans, iron skillet, and pots and pans stacked in black milk crates. He also had a silver Cannondale bicycle locked to itself with several chains. He was walking back from the trash dumpster, their eyes met. He smiled and said, “Good morning, it is another beautiful day in paradise, isn’t it?” Jayne smiled and said, “Yes, yes it is!” As Jayne got closer to the edge of the park her nostrils filled with the foul smell of garbage. She moved quickly into the grass and half way up the hill. The girls that had disappeared out of her view earlier were returning to the camp site. Some with wet hair, all of them in fresh cloths; several conversations were taking place between them. Two of the smaller girls were racing down the hill. One of the older girls was yelling after them to stop before someone got hurt.
A group of women of various ages had gathered in the park at the bottom of the hill. Some of them were sitting on blankets, others were standing; waiting for the girls to join them. Jayne stood there and watched the winner run into her mother’s arms almost knocking her down from the impact of her speed. They hugged. Jayne could hear the mother scolding her daughter for running down the hill. The little girl, “Oh Mommy I won, I won today,” she continued to laugh.
Milk crates in various colors were stacked against the back of the tents. Each girl hung her towel over a section of a milk crate. One of the towels had the words The Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows written in blue on it. A group of boys started walking towards the hill. Each of them with a towel, change of clothing, and white or tan plastic shopping bag in their hand or thrown over a shoulder. Jayne walked through the middle of the park. As Jayne passed the women, each one acknowledged her with a cheerful “Hello,” smile, or nod.
There was a couple sitting at a park table across the street, they spoke to Jayne as she approached them; the woman white—in her early fifties, the man, Latino about the same age. She said, “Good morning!” “How are you today?” Jayne used the opportunity to ask if she could sit with them for a moment. Jayne introduced herself and extended her hand. The woman introduced the man, Oliver, and then herself; Fiona. As Jayne removed her camera backpack and placed it on the bench next to her Fiona said, “Did you get some good pictures this morning?” “Yes, I believe I did.” Jayne responded. Fiona continued, “We’ve been watching you all morning.” A little surprised, Jayne said, “You have, why?” Oliver spoke, “A new face, and no belongings other than your camera bag, are you a reporter?” “No,” Jayne said. “I am a photographer.”
Oliver studied Jayne’s face for a moment then said, “We figured after yesterday we would have reporters and more police over here, is that why you are here?” Before Jayne could respond Fiona said, “We moved here from California over a year ago.” “We were having a hard time keeping a place in California.” “The landlord kept raising our rent.” “The woman at the housing office told us things were better here in Hawaii, so we used our SSDI checks to buy plane tickets.” “SSDI checks, what is that?” Jayne asked. Oliver responded, “Social Security Disability Insurance.”
Fiona continued, “After we got here our social security benefits were cut in half.” “In California our income was $2,299.00 a month.” “They put us on a waiting list for housing too.” “Said people with children would get housing first.” “We been here 18 months now, the woman in California lied.” Jayne’s head turned toward Fiona. “It cost more to live in Hawaii than in California, why would they cut your money?” In unison they said, “They said the state of Hawaii does not pay that much.”
Oliver spoke, “We been together 20 years now.” His weary brown eyes glowed when he looked at Fiona. Fiona grinned from ear to ear, she had no front teeth upper or lower. Her finger nails were long, uneven, chipped, and caked with dirt underneath. Fiona has long blonde hair and green eyes. She stood about 5’5”, and skinny as a rail. Fiona was wearing one of those cheap tourist t-shirts, (you can buy 9 t-shirts for 20 bucks at most of the tourist shops on the island.) It was red with an iron transfer that said, Hawaii in the black brush script font, a pair of non-designer black gym shoes with a pair of jeans, the thighs frayed, the white strings blew with the breeze.
Fiona went back to her story. “I have been homeless most of my adult life.” “My mamma put me out when I was 15 because her boyfriend was trying to have relations with me.” “I ain’t got no other family so all I could do was live on the street.” “When I turned 16 I got a job working fast food.” “I was doing okay too.” “Me and two of my coworkers moved into a studio apartment together.” “I kept saving my money and working, I was going to be the manager some day.” “Then one day I fell on a count the floor was slick from grease.” “I was hurt bad.” She raised her shirt to show Jayne the scars on her back and right side from the surgeries. She went on, “I got addicted to pain killers, couldn’t stand for long periods of time anymore and I couldn’t pay my rent so I had to go back to living on the street.” “Then I met Oliver.” “He got me to stop the drugs.” “He helped me get SSDI too, Oliver is a veteran.”
A younger white woman was walking by. Fiona stopped talking to greet her and asked her how her mom was feeling this morning. She stopped just long enough to update Fiona and Oliver, said she had to get back then disappeared into a tent in front of them, it was off by itself.
Fiona then turned her body to face Jayne and lowered her voice. “Her mamma just returned from the hospital, she dying from cancer and needs to be in hospice, but won’t no place let her daughter come too, so she came back here to die.” “They been homeless a long time.” “How did they become homeless?” Jayne asked. “Her daddy died, wasn’t no insurance money to bury him, wasn’t no money left for her and her mamma.” “When Simone was in 10th grade her mamma got sick.” “Simone got a job at a Times Supermarket.” “It wasn’t enough to pay all the bills so they ended up on the street.” “Simone’s mamma didn’t know she could get SSDI or public housing.” “Simone didn’t finish school and now she won’t work because she got to take care of her dying mamma.” Tears began to fill the wells of Jayne’s eyes. She cleared her throat. Fiona caught her breath. Oliver patted her hand. They sat in silence, then Jayne asked,“Fiona, are there a lot of families here?” She looked over her shoulder and said, “See those tents going up that street, we call that Family Hill.” “We try to keep all the families close together and in the middle of the camp, most of them take turns watching each other’s children while they at work, looking for work, go to a housing appointment, the food pantry, or to use the shower up over the hill.” “The street behind it in both directions full of families too; we call it Family Alley.” “Four or five mamma’s will go over the hill early in the morning to shower.” “We go in groups so we can watch out for each other, then the girls, then the boys and they dad’s.”
Surprised, “The city provides showers for the homeless people?” Jayne asked. Fiona laughed. “Just over that hill is the beach.” Public parks and beaches have bathrooms and shower stalls, you know for the swimmers and surfers or whatever.” “That’s why we stay close to the beaches or parks—at least we can shower every day and we can fill up our water jugs when we can’t buy bottled water.” “The city did bring over a portable toilet, they come clean it every day too, but that’s one toilet and there’s hundreds of people over here.”
Jayne pulled herself out of the slouched position she had fallen into and said, “It is my understanding a lot of people are homeless because they on drugs or alcohol.” Fiona cut in and said, “Don’t forget the crazies!” Then Oliver said, “This is a family community.” “If we know you over here because you got a drug or alcohol problem, we make it known we do not want you here, we don’t need that bad element—it’s babies here.” “The drug addicts and alcoholics stay over by China Town where they can beg the tourist for money.” “We back here trying to survive and stay out-of-the-way of the police.”
Oliver paused for a moment, “Listen, most of the people over here hardworking law-abiding people.” “Many of them have jobs.” “There are many reasons people came to lose their homes.” “Some loss their job because the business closed and the unemployment check wasn’t enough.” “Seven families over here because the owner died, left his properties to his greedy daughter, she sold the properties and the new owner raised the rent, some here because they mate left them for someone else, taking half the income with them.” “It’s a family with five kids living over here because the dad got hurt on his landscaping job, he couldn’t work any more, the landlord raised the rent, so they moved into their SUV to save enough to move, then the wife got fired because she wasn’t getting to work on time, trying to get the kids to school from over here, now they stuck.” “Some here because they were one paycheck away from being on the street and the one paycheck ended.” “It’s a lot of reasons people become homeless.” “Some here are veterans, like me.”
Fiona added, “Its people over here working three jobs, saving to get the rent, security, and application fee, it takes time…it just ain’t enough.” “When our money runs out for the month I go beg, Oliver can’t go, people won’t give him money because he’s a man.” Jayne asked, “How many tents are here?” Oliver spoke. “At the end of May it was 198, see those three tents over there?” “They just showed up yesterday, but the last time I counted we had 219 tents.” “See all the people starting to gather in the park, the county going to bring all of us a hot lunch soon.” “The shelters don’t have enough beds and those that do want to force you into a drug or alcohol program just to sleep there at night and sit through their classes during the day when you don’t have a problem other than no job.” Jayne sighed, Oliver and Fiona sighed. Jayne said, “I was watching the news last night a State Representative was attacked by a gang of homeless people over here.”
Oliver and Fiona laughed out loud. Oliver said, “He lucky we didn’t string him up for supper,” “They said a gang of people,” Oliver laughed again, “It was two of the teenagers that recognized who he was.” “He’s a mean man, he was walking down the streets with a video camera in his hand, pointing it in people’s faces, and talking.” “He the same man that came through here a while back with a sledgehammer, took all the shopping carts, he tore a lot of the tarps down, and had a garbage truck trying to take all of our stuff, told us he didn’t want us in his ward, we should move to the other side of the island.” “The dirty bastard.”
Fiona said “Oliver we best be getting across the street before the truck comes so we can line up otherwise we won’t get a lunch.” The three of them stood at the same time, Jayne thanked them for talking to her. Fiona said, “You can come visit us anytime, you welcome here.” Jayne thanked Oliver and Fiona, crossed the street back into the park and over the hill towards the bathrooms. Jayne used the GPS on her phone to measure the distance from the homeless camp to the bathroom…it read 0.5 miles.