A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my encounters with some of the children in Kaka’ako and the frustration of not being able to help. A lot has happened since then.
It seems like my universe has been throwing words and signs of caution as I continue to visit Kaka’ako. For a variety of reasons, my friends and family have shared their concerns for my safety. I understand. The most recent news of a Hawai`i legislator being a “victim of ‘gang-style’ attack” is reason to be concerned — I get that. But I feel an incredible tug to visit the kids I have gotten to know in the area.
I drove through Kaka’ako this morning with my trunk full of books, donated by a friend from Read Aloud America. Instead of parking in my usual spot, I decided to drive into the back area so I could unload the books closer to their tents. A couple of kids recognized me, so I decided to pull over onto the side of the road. As I passed out the books, I noticed a little boy I hadn’t seen before. He had a slender frame, dark tanned skin, and beautiful little eyes that sparkled with curiosity. I asked if he would like to have some books to read, and he immediately crawled up into the back of my SUV and started to dig through the pile. I smiled.
After the older kids had walked off, it was just my new little friend and I sitting in the back of my SUV. I learned that he was 4 years-old, loved to eat candy, knew his ABCs, and wanted to go to school. Our conversation was interrupted when a tent close-by erupted with shouting. I looked over towards the tent and saw a woman yelling at a younger girl. I asked my little friend if he knew who they were.
“That’s my mom and my sister.”
I felt for his sister. She slouched into her chair, trying hard to keep her tears in, trying desperately not to fight back even with her mother yelling, spitting, and pushing her around.
I looked over at this beautiful little soul sitting next to me and said, “I’m sorry little guy.”
I asked if he knew where his father was, and he responded, “He’s in jail.”
My heart sank. I could see at this point that the argument and fighting was escalating fast so I decided to take the boy towards another tent where his friends were. As I ushered him towards another tent, a law enforcement vehicle drove straight towards the mother and daughter. I let go of the little boy’s hand and walked towards my car and the officer who had stepped out. The mother and daughter who had been fighting simmered down really fast, and then I realized I was in trouble.
I approached the officer and his first question was: Is this your car?
I answered… Yes, yes it is. I’m just here to pass out books to the kids.
The conversation that followed happened so fast. I wasn’t supposed to be parked on that street. I understood this. And at the same time I had a good reason for it… I couldn’t carry three boxes of books by myself, and thought parking on the side of the street would be fine. I wasn’t going to fight him. If I’m wrong, then I’m wrong… even if I had good intentions.
He asked for my license and registration. As I reached into the car to get my documentation, I kept thinking to myself, “I can’t believe you’re getting in trouble for trying to help these kids… it’s okay… it’s fine…” From the corner of my eye, I could see the mother and daughter sitting quietly in their tent and the little boy standing outside. How ironic.
I shook my head at the circumstances, took a deep breath, and faced the officer with my documentation. He told me that my parking there was only contributing more to the chaos and lawlessness of this area. I understood where he was coming from. I wasn’t upset or angry with him. He was doing his job and having to do these rounds everyday.
Then I started saying what came to my mind…
“I’m sorry… It’s just that my dad was homeless for two years and I still haven’t gotten over it.”
I’m not even sure what I meant by that when I said it to the officer. I just wanted him to know that I was there because of something deeper inside of me. A life experience that was far more meaningful and thoughtful than a parking mishap. I looked into his eyes and stood there quietly for a second. And then I apologized again. This kid over there has no good role models from what I can see. I’ve been spending the past half an hour reading to him and getting him excited about learning to form words.
Then the officer said, “Do you realize how dangerous this place can be?” He went on to explain how assaults and rapes are a growing concern in the area. I acknowledged his concerns. In some quiet way, my universe is gently asking me to be more mindful and careful with how I spend my time in the area. I recognize that there are risks to everything in life. I know that what I’m doing by approaching individuals with substance abuse and mental illness means that I take on a certain level of risk. At the same time I know that I have to trust my instincts and I don’t want to stop approaching them. If anything, I have plans to bridge my legal studies with my homeless outreach through existing organizations in our community so that I am safer.
And yet I know that the “real help” and opportunities for growth happen when I’m out there as an individual, just somebody who cares and wants others to know that I do. These kids are especially hungry for love and attention. They are bored. They are beaten. They witness everything that we see in the news. And yet they are so tenderhearted. I want to help them somehow. I have ideas and am looking forward to forming them.
For now, my heart goes out to the children there. They need more than just books, toys, used clothing, and food. They need love, consistency, stability, role models, stable parents, a home that provides them the security to branch out and discover themselves and the world. I want so much more for them. I think we can figure this out together.