Cultivating the Home

“When we fulfill our function, which is to truly love ourselves and share love with others, then true happiness sets in.”
― Gabrielle Bernstein

I started this blog a couple of years ago to chronicle the myriad of powerful thoughts and feelings that came with facing elements of my past… facing my then “homeless” and mentally “ill” father. Life has propelled me in so many different directions after this blog gained international attention. From the speaking engagements, to sitting on panels, to showcasing my photographs, and attempting to write a book proposal… it felt oddly unnatural to be doing all of that at the time. I wasn’t trying to gain any fame or attention from this — I just wanted to help my Dad. And I wanted to honor the relationships and words of the people who so graciously shared and opened their hearts to me — the people who I know are still living on the streets today.

The sensationalism that came with sharing my story was overwhelming. And over the past years, I found myself diving deeper and deeper into my shell. I was consciously trying to drown out the noise… trying to regain my own spiritual and emotional balance. It is important to take care of yourself, especially if you want to be able to take care of others. So here I am. I am focusing on cultivating my home, my little world, and thinking about the words in my heart that I long to share.

This blog was born from my suffering, from a place of deep pain and years of hurt that bubbled into more than I could have ever imagined. Somehow, sharing some of my darkest experiences has brought life and light into the hearts and minds of others. I feel like this blog is only one part of the story, and I have been wrestling with where and how to move forward and beyond. I have more to give, more to share, more insight that is built on a foundation of love and regrowth that I think could be helpful… the question is whether it’s appropriate for me to share it here?


This is the Homeless Paradise. But what I have to give goes beyond the hopelessness of our circumstances, it is about building and cultivating a home. I’m not talking just about a physical space to call your own, I’m talking about the home in your heart — the feeling of self-worth and serenity that comes with truly living and breathing in your own skin. For those of you who have been following this blog, you know of the trials and some of the childhood experiences that shaped my past. These experiences, as painful and confusing as they were, did not limit me from striving for better in my own life. I have always said that my truest desire in life was to have a familyto have a home. It took time, patience, selflessness, and couples therapy (yes, therapy) to build the life that we have. So, where am I going with all of this?

I’m thinking about continuing the story, but peeling away the layers and sharing nuggets of wisdom that I’ve stored in my heart… I once read somewhere that when you’ve reached your goal in life, you don’t just bask in your success and go merrily along… no, you turn around and help others to reach theirs. My family isn’t perfect, I’m not a perfect wife, I’m not a perfect mother, but I am grateful for the family I do have and the home that I do have. My greatest accomplishment in life thus far is knowing that I’ve broken the cycle of abuse and dysfunction; my soul is free to create the life I’ve always wanted and needed as a child. I have become the parent I needed as a child, and have created the home I yearned for.

When the dust has finally settled and you emerge, what do we do? When the pain has finally faded to a dullness that you’re not quite ready to ignore, but don’t want to prolong, how do you move forward? Ultimately, when you’ve been given a second chance at living your life the way you want to, how do you pick up the pieces? It takes time and conscious redirection of negative energy into positive. Maybe this is the wrong place to share these thoughts and feelings, but I felt compelled to reach out to you all. You have “followed” my journey all these years, and you know how hard it has been… I’d like to share the light now. Let me know if it’s something you think would help.




A New Normal

“Growing apart doesn’t change the fact that for a long time we grew side by side; our roots will always be tangled. I’m glad for that.”
Ally Condie, Matched

Somewhere between then and now, we grew into our new normal… we found a rhythm that works for us. I feel really content with where we are, and where we are headed. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, maybe it’s because that little girl finally feels the comfort of having her Father. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I love our new normal.

Celebrating my law school graduation with my Father.

Celebrating my law school graduation with my Father.

Just last month, he organized a barbecue at Ala Moana Beach Park to celebrate my graduation from law school. It was the sweetest gesture ever. This was his first time planning a gathering for me. He made a few calls, invited some family members, and gave me specific instructions to bring sausage to throw on the grill. I asked if we needed anything else — a salad maybe? Some rice? Anything? No, he had already designated items to other family members. My job: bring sausage.

It was a beautiful day at the park. Our lives seem to continue crossing at Ala Moana Beach Park — the same park I’ve mentioned in other blog posts. The same place where I met my friends in the “Forest,” the same place where I rollerbladed as a little girl growing up in Honolulu, the same place where I reconnected with “Hobo Bob.” So it was befitting that multiple generations were collectively coming together on the very shores of my childhood, all invited by my father’s direction.

The sky was painted an incredible blue that morning, and everyone brought their appetite. It was quite a fiasco trying to rally all the family members back into one spot to get the barbecue going. The kids were in the water, one of my cousins was fishing with my father at the opposite side of the park, my husband was busy with the kids, and the other family members were busy getting things settled under the tent.

I decided it was a good time to figure out how to operate the grill. I’m a “go-getter.” To my half-sister’s credit, she was somewhat cautious about my approach in attaching the propane canister to the grill. Okay, so maybe I didn’t really know what I was doing… and it wasn’t a good idea to try to flick the igniter while attaching the propane tank — the switch was not a mysterious “lock” to get the tank to screw on.

Thankfully, my husband returned and knew what he was doing. Everyone started to regather around the tent and slowly started pulling out their dishes. We brought our sausage like we were asked. My cousins brought meat as well. And my uncle and aunt… brought meat and a massive tub of kimchee.

Nobody brought rice.

I started to giggle. My husband knew what I was thinking, but didn’t want to say it. Finally I broke the silence and blurted out, “A bunch of Koreans are at a barbecue and nobody brought rice… how are we supposed to eat?”

It was cute. It gave us all something to laugh about together. My father shook his head in disbelief. He went around the circle and asked if they were absolutely sure that he hadn’t asked them to bring rice. This was the first time he had organized a family gathering, and we were all just really proud and happy to be enjoying each other’s company — rice or no rice. I’m glad it happened though… it seemed to break the ice, and helped everyone to feel more comfortable. Who knows, maybe he planned that all along!

The rest of the day was beautiful… the water was perfect for swimming. My father wore regular khaki shorts and shoes. He didn’t have any swimwear with him. I was a little surprised that he would suggest coming to this beach park, and not be prepared to get in the water. And then it dawned on me… I had no recollection of seeing him in the ocean. I had no memory whatsoever of being in the ocean with my father.

How could that be?

We live in Hawai`i. We are surrounded by water. The ocean is such an important part of my life — a source of healing energy, a way to reconnect with myself and my spirituality. I had to take another minute to consider this.

We have to get into the water together.

It took several tries to convince my father that his shorts would dry just fine. We had a paddle board and I begged him to let me paddle him around. I literally broke out into what probably resembled an excited 6-year-old’s dance. I hopped up and down, clapped my hands, grinned from ear-to-ear, and pleaded with him…

Please, please, pleaaaase? Pleaaase? I’ve never asked for anything before! PLEASE get on the paddle board with me! You remember what I said about paddling and how it’s been such an amazing heeeealing experience for me? Pleeeeeaaase?”

I think he was enjoying every moment of my desperate whining. He quietly said, “If you keep pushing me, I won’t do it.” And then he flashed a grin. Okay, so I had to be more reasonable. I went to law school. Heck, I graduated from law school. I quickly adjusted to a new strategy…

Dad, we have never been in the ocean together… and who knows when we will have access to a paddle board again? I’ll be really busy studying for the bar exam, so we may not be able to do this again for a couple of months. This is a great time to make new memories!”

Hook. Line. Sinker. 😉

I watched our feet disappear under the sandy shores of Ala Moana Beach Park that morning. The water creeped up above our ankles and then our knees. We shared a smile, and I soaked up the warmth of his skin under my hands. We were connected. With a little encouragement, my father sat on the paddle board and I was able to briefly standup.

Beach Day

There must have been a little confusion about what was going to happen on the paddle board. I thought I was going to be able to “paddle” away with him on it — he thought he was just going to idly “sit” on the board… on the shore. His reaction was darling. As soon as he realized what I had intended, he gripped the sides of the board and jumped off as fast as he could. I was so close!

Even though we weren’t able to leave the shores that day, I am still deeply appreciative for that brief moment we shared as father and daughter. I hope we can someday explore deeper waters. For now, I am loving our new normal… I am loving these moments that continue to unfold with each passing day.

Wishing everyone lots of love and inspiration in this life journey. Hope you enjoyed being able to hear of another “first” I experienced with my father and my family.


Rare and Hungry for Love

“Hungry for love, He looks at you. Thirsty for kindness, He begs of you. Naked for loyalty, He hopes in you. Homeless for shelter in your Heart, He asks of you. Will you be that one to Him?” – Mother Teresa

I recently had the honor of flying out to DC for the Rare Under 40 Awards Ceremony. The trip felt like a whirlwind, but I came back home feeling energized and uplifted from meeting so many inspiring souls. I have to admit I felt a little out of my element. I never thought I’d go from sidewalks to a red carpet because of this blog, my photographs, and from simply opening myself to others. I wished it could have been Hobo Bob, Darryl, Brian, Nani, or Roxy on the red carpet instead.


The story of my journey with my father may have captured hearts and souls around the world, but it’s the stories of those who I’ve met along the way that continues to weigh on my heart. There are endless waves of Brian’s, Nani’s, Roxy’s… all lined up alongside fences and scattered throughout parks. So many hearts hungry for love.

“What does that mean, anyway?”

We are all hungry for love… validation of our worth, our dreams, and our hopes. It’s easy to doubt ourselves, to shut people out to protect our hearts, to grow hardened from years of living in fear and uncertainty. The world is full of pain and suffering, but the smallest gesture of kindness can be the spark we/you/I need to preserve the softness in our hearts for others. I was reminded of that during my trip to DC.

I had an interview with Rare correspondents shortly after I arrived, and was running off of about an hour or two of sleep. Needless to say, my responses to the interview questions were brutally honest and I’m not even sure if anyone will ever see it. There were a couple of questions that really left an impression on me:

“In your opinion, what do you believe is the greatest challenge that millennials face today?”

I took a deep breath, thought about it for a second, and said what I felt… I think it went something like this…

“We crave connection. We live in a world where it’s easy to connect through the digital medium, but we’re lacking the human element. The human touch, a hug, holding our hands, holding each other, and being open to loving each other. I think that’s why I like to hug people… especially those on the streets, they all need that fundamental human connection.”

And it goes further… we long for friendship, and to have our hearts be seen. I’ve been reflecting on my past and continuing the journey of self-discovery. I know that in my heart of hearts, I have yearned for deeply connected friendships. Out of fear of being hurt or misunderstood, I know I have pushed people away and opted to stay in my own comfort zone. I would maintain a busy schedule, pour myself into projects, my family, and sometimes use that as an excuse for not investing in people who were trying to invest their hearts in me.

It’s an interesting feeling having so much of my life and my heart written out for others to see. I’m learning to embrace it because it helps me to live a life closer to my purpose. I’m not as afraid of people coming to me, opening themselves in hopes of having a shared connection. It has been an incredibly enriching experience, and I appreciate how much love I’m able to receive because of it. There’s still a lot to work on… on a personal level. There are still loved ones in my life who I want and need to reach out to. Someday.

Which brings me to the second question I was asked in DC:

“How do you stay motivated to do what you do?”

Another honest response… I shared how I wake up every morning with the understanding and acceptance that I will die. My eyes will close and never open again to see this world the way I do today. Knowing and accepting this gives me the strength and serenity to go after my dreams, to follow my heart everyday… to stay open to soul connections with people no matter their circumstances.


As I finish writing this blog post, I’m looking into my father’s eyes reflecting back into mine. Across the way is a homeless man who is suffering from mental illness, he just came by about 5 minutes ago and asked us for food. I don’t know his name, or his past… I don’t know what he is battling, or what kind of pain he is feeling right now. But I hope to find out soon.

My father said to me, “I’m so glad I’m not homeless anymore.”

Yes. Me too. Now it’s time to keep moving forward, and paying-it-forward. I’m sighing deeply this very second. Wishing all the best to you this beautiful day. Thanks for following along and I hope it encourages you to share one act of kindness today.




Derrick – ‘Ōiwi na’u koko ha’aheo na’u koko

Derrick - Kapalama Canal

I met Derrick standing by a bench next to the Kapalama Canal. His deep tan seemed to glow against the reflection of the water.  The air felt clean and my skin was still cool from being at the news station for my morning interview. I glanced at him and made quick eye contact. He was busy talking to someone and our eyes met again — this time I waved at him. He nodded and smiled. I awkwardly introduced myself, almost interrupting their conversation, and sort of back-stepped towards a bench.

I could tell he was curious about me and my half-hearted attempt to say “hello.” I didn’t have any specific plan by being there. I had just left the news station from doing an interview on the Sunrise Show. I felt the pull to drive by the canal. Someone had mentioned that a one-mile fence would be built alongside this canal… another way to address the “homeless problem.”


So, there I was. I wanted quiet. Some “me” time. It is always emotionally draining to expose myself… to be vulnerable to a public audience, even if I’m just sitting under bright lights with a really warm reporter/human-being next to me. It was nice to be outside… a good break from where I had just been. I sat there alone, on the picnic table, and watched people come out of their tents. One lady was preparing her breakfast — it smelled like she was frying up some eggs and sausage. My stomach started to growl. I hadn’t had breakfast yet.

My attention came back to Derrick. His friend was gone and he was standing right next to me. Smiling, he asked what I was doing here.

“Here we go,” I thought.

I was honest. I told him where I had just come from, my journey, and my nervousness about sharing personal details of my life. He listened attentively. Layer by layer, I shared my hopes, my pain and fear. I mentioned how I felt so alone at times. And how I appreciate the quiet and solitude because it is a reminder that I, alone, will have to face my fears and manifest my hopes and dreams into reality. It’s that moment of pause we have in life that gives us the freedom to choose our next step.

Kapalama Canal

A one-mile fence will be built along Kapalama Canal to prevent homeless camps.

I went on to share my thoughts about the money that would be spent on building the fence. I explained my belief that helping isn’t always about spending money. As children, we are oftentimes asked if we want anything… if there’s anything we can buy to make them happy or feel better. And it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to buy a gift or a token of our appreciation. But it is the thought and intent behind it that truly touches the person… touches the child… It’s about love. People want to feel loved, to have someone listen to them and their feelings, and be held when they’re not feeling good. I’m not so sure that building a fence will help the situation.

He shared his own life story — how he had lived a life of incredible financial freedom at a young age. Derrick had money, lots of it, and he blew it all away on the “wrong things” in his early years. He remembers a time when he would drive by homeless people, scoffing at their circumstances and turning away from them — seeing them as failures in life.

My stomach started to growl.

I asked if he was hungry and his response made me laugh. “Girl, I am one Hawaiian braddah, I can always eat.” Thank goodness. I was starving. We walked over to the nearest Zippy’s restaurant and ordered rice, eggs, and portuguese sausage. He liked his rice the same way I did — colored with shoyu and tabasco. Perfect.

We sat by a big window and he shared more about his life and the new perspective and life path he was on. He enjoys helping people. Derrick reflected on a time when he had “everything,” yet he was incredibly unhappy with life. And now at the cusp of being 50 years-old, he has very little in the material sense, but has never felt more content. He is happy. He is learning to be at peace with himself, and being on the streets is part of that journey in helping him to get there.

The journey for Derrick is more spiritual than anything else. He shared the struggles of his father, his family, those who came before him… and at one point he lifted his shirt, revealing a tattoo across his chest that read:

‘Ōiwi na’u koko ha’aheo na’u koko

(Hawaiian by blood, proud by choice)

I grew up in Hawai`i, but cannot claim to fully understand the incredibly deep, interconnected, and enriching history and language of Hawai`i. However, I do have a deep respect for Native Hawaiians, like Derrick, who are part of an ongoing economic, social,  cultural struggle that threatens the cultural practices and way of life of Indigenous Peoples. For those who are interested in learning more, I highly recommend reading “Who Owns the Crown Lands of Hawai`i?”.

He explained that many people living near Kapalama Canal express frustration in wanting a subsistence way of life, but not having the option to. At the same time, there are many who are depressed and need a friend. I realized that Derrick and I were a lot alike in this way… Wanting to be a friend, feeling connected to ourselves by connecting with others, but also appreciating our moments of solitude to recharge and reflect.

I wondered if he was depressed.

I openly shared how, in retrospect, I was depressed while my father was homeless. And how I learned to deal with being alone, compartmentalizing the pain, in order to keep things together in other areas of my life. It was so hard, and I know I’m a different person because of it. I have grown, no doubt, but I have also learned how to approach challenging experiences as an opportunity for growth. And I don’t mind having to push myself… I’m accepting what it means to be uncomfortable.

“Kūlia i ka nu‘u,” he said.

(Strive to the summit)

Derrick acknowledged what I was sharing. I was revealing myself to him — a period of personal turmoil that I really hadn’t broken down yet. It was hard, but I got over it. And that’s really all that mattered. But he didn’t mind listening to the details, watching the layers unfold that morning, as I was fresh from just sharing my story live on-air.

A photograph taken by Derrick of me sitting by Kapalama Canal.

A photograph taken by Derrick of me sitting by Kapalama Canal.

I think he noticed the change in my mood because he abruptly changed my train of thought by mentioning his mother. His mother shared something with him at an early age, and he wanted to share it with me. He asked me to spell out the word “depression.” I said each letter out loud, slowly… Then he asked me to cross out the first “d”, the “e”, and the “i.”


press on

When you take the word “depression,” and you cross out those letters, you’re left with the words “press on.” If you don’t “press on” in life, then the three letters you took out spell “die,” and you will surely “die” because of your depression.

“So, Diana… press on, kūlia i ka nu‘u, strive to the summit” he said.

Yes, Derrick. I will. It has taken me over a week to write this post… I’ve held onto the strength and thoughtfulness of his words… of the life that is woven into his words… It means a lot to me, and now I’m sharing them with you. As I drove away that morning, I felt happier… understood, validated… I smiled knowing that he had helped me, and I had helped him. We saw each other and our hearts nodded quietly as I waved goodbye. It’s never truly goodbye, though. Deep down inside, I know I will see him again.

Wishing you all the best in the journey… until next time…



Road Tests and Second Chances

Dad Passes Road Test

I started off the morning with my Dad at the Dillingham DMV, shuffling through paperwork to get him ready for his road test. The last time I had been to a DMV for a road test was when I was 16 years-old. My best friend’s mom (now mother-in-law) was with me on my third attempt at passing the test. She was (and still is) such a sweetheart. Even after failing the test twice, she continued to encourage me, and shared that it took her kids more than one attempt to pass. I’m not even sure if that’s true or not, but it meant everything to have her support and patience. It felt good to have a mother-figure around…

I thought about my own experience as I shuttled by Dad around at the DMV. I anxiously watched my Dad engage with the check-in receptionist and road test examiner. A part of me wanted to talk to the receptionist for him, but I forced myself to take a backseat and let him do it. He gave her the license and registration, insurance card, and confirmation e-mail I had printed out for him. We walked over to an empty bench and I playfully shared my experience in failing the test. I think it was my way of reassuring myself that it would be okay if he didn’t pass for whatever reason. My heart smiled knowing that we were creating another memory together — making up for a missed opportunity.

His name was finally called and I jumped up closely behind him as the examiner ushered him to the parking lot. I could feel the butterflies of excitement building in my gut and smiled proudly as he walked towards the car. Wait, maybe we should have practiced in my car? I watched as he fumbled trying to get the automatic door opener to work — crap, the battery was dead on that device, he would need to manually stick the key into the car door and turn it. My Dad looked over at me, and I signaled to stick the key into the door and turn. I quickly signaled again while the examiner had his back turned to me. He got it. Phew.

He drove off smoothly… good, I thought. I sat alone in a metal patio chair left obscurely by the wall and absorbed the scene in front of me. Teenagers were rushing by with their anxious parents, an elderly woman in a wheelchair was escorted into her car, and a man who appeared to be homeless stopped in front of a garbage ban to look for recyclables. The vision of my Dad on the streets flashed back into my mind, as I watched this man pluck out empty cans. He looked up and smiled at me, I smiled back. He walked away towards a friend before I could stop him to talk. Another time, I thought.

So this is what it’s going to feel like when my boys get older and it’s their turn to take their road test. I started to get lost in my own thoughts and didn’t realize half an hour had passed. I got up to see if they had returned, and the car was parked around the corner. As I walked into the DMV, I saw my Dad talked to another receptionist and quickly made my way over. Did he pass? Please tell me he passed!

He passed.

He was beaming, a full ear-to-ear grin. His smile reminded me of my older son’s smile. I gave him a hug and stood back to let him get his paperwork processed and have his photo taken.

God, thank you. Thank you for this moment, for this second chance.

I am so proud of him and still marvel at how far he has come in such a short amount of time. He is slowly taking steps towards becoming independent again, and I feel so grateful to witness his recovery. Miracles do happen, it happens to normal people like you and I.  It happens in the quiet details of life, like passing a road test, sharing a smile, watching someone stand tall again…

As I finish writing this blog post, my heart and mind is connecting with the hundreds of e-mails and comments I have received from people all over the world. People who share similar stories, understand the struggle, have experienced the pain of not having a healthy family or upbringing, and especially those who lost their parent(s) and were never able to have that “second chance.” I want you to know that I truly appreciate your messages and am sending you hope, love, positive and healing energy. Thank you for being part of this journey, for reaching out, for caring, and for allowing your heart to be touched by mine. It means everything to me.



Little Souls


Hanging out and talking

Hanging out and talking

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.”

Picking books to read

Picking books to read

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.




The Road to Recovery

I know many readers are curious to know how my father is doing. I have to admit that like everything else in life, there are ups and downs but I’m still glad that he’s doing better. I recorded some of our conversations and wanted to share one with you. Up until now, a lot of what has been shared in this blog have been my own personal experiences of seeing my father go through life as a homeless person. I was able to get permission from him to share this one, so people can have a more intimate understanding of the kind of progress a person can make when on treatment.

He mentions that we all have problems… we all issues in life to resolve. Everybody does something wrong in their life. He is right. Part of the human experience is to suffer and struggle. I am amazed to see his progress in such a short amount of time. I can imagine how many others who are mentally ill have thought the same thing about taking medication. Why do I need this? If I feel better, why do I have to keep taking it?

As a society we seem to attribute mental illness as a sign of weakness and deficiency. There is something gravely wrong with this line of thinking. I recently had lunch with a former co-worker and shared with her the changes that have occurred in both my father’s life and my own. I half-heartedly told her that I probably needed counseling as much as my father did when all of this was happening. It’s true. I did. And I still do. Trying to come to terms with the emotional and mental stress and trauma of the past is not easy. We relive it in cycles, sometimes unconsciously. At the same time we want to be “stronger than that.” Not wanting the assistance because out of stubborn determination we don’t want to accept that there might actually be something wrong. I’ve definitely been there.

But when I recall all of the hardships and suffering that he and I both shared (separately and together) in the past years… including my own childhood… I recognize that I have come this far because I had the good counseling from close friends, family, therapists, teachers, colleagues, and people who simply cared. It’s nobody’s responsibility to “fix” us, but it’s definitely our responsibility to each take control of our road to recoveries. And for some, like in the instance of my father, there needs to be some overriding authority to make sure they have he opportunity to make decisions with mental clarity.

Thanks for continuing to read, to care, to share… I’m never really sure who reads this, or what will come of it in the future. Hopefully it’s all good.


Unknown Territory

“You learned to run from what you feel, and that's why you have nightmares. To deny is to invite madness. To accept is to control.”  - Megan Chance

“You learned to run from what you feel, and that’s why you have nightmares. To deny is to invite madness. To accept is to control.” – Megan Chance

I promised myself that I would continue writing in this blog even when the discomfort of the unknown started to creep in. As the world around me continues to propel forward, I find myself wondering where my father is in all of this. He hasn’t been returning my calls.

I’ve called him to see how he is and I’m not sure why he hasn’t called me back. It could be something as simple as just wanting his space, or maybe he misplaced his phone. This is not the first time I’ve been down this road, but for some reason it feels like unknown territory because of where we’ve been in the last two years.

We have both had time to reflect and decompress from the intensity of our recent experiences. I’m sure he feels equally as overwhelmed as I do. I like to stay positive in thinking that this is a period of growth for the both of us, and that he is off somewhere capturing life through the lens. I like to believe that he is regaining a sense of self and growing stronger each day.

At the same time I can’t help but wonder if things are backsliding for him. Nobody wants to see their parents or loved ones on the streets… especially not again if they’ve survived it and gotten to a better place. But this is a reminder of what I had written just a month ago: He is good for today.

I think this is an important piece to touch upon when discussing the “homeless issue.” For those of us who are connected to this social condition, whether it be through our personal or professional gravitation, we can’t “control” an individual’s decisions or thoughts. No matter how badly we want to “fix the issue” or “solve homelessness,” I don’t think it will ever go away. We don’t live in a perfect world, and as “Fox” mentioned in his interview:

“… No one is immune and it could happen to them at any time!”

Sometimes the best I can do is appreciate the good, hope for the best, and help others when I can. Accepting that things are out of my control is not easy, but I know that no matter what happens… it will be okay. It has to be.


First Bracelet

When asked to write one word to describe herself and her life: "Survivor."

When asked to write one word to describe herself and her life: “Survivor.”

You recognize a survivor when you see one. You recognize a fighter when you see one. – Elizabeth Edwards

Some weeks go by fast, and some really slow. This particular week has felt like an oncoming storm with new opportunities and experiences. All in good ways. I was able to reconnect with Roxy yesterday and sat down for a few minutes to input her medical information into her bracelet. It worked effortlessly and she was really happy about having the backup technology. It feels good to know that she has a safety net now. She doesn’t have to worry so much about having her stuff tossed or stolen. The bracelet is literally just one small thing, but I hope it helps.

When asked to write one word to describe herself and what it is like being a homeless woman, she shared: “Survivor.” It was perfect. Roxy has been through hell and back, and yet she still carries herself with dignity and maintains a positive outlook on life.

We talked about our lives — what’s been happening, how things are going, etc. She always seems keenly interested in how I’m doing in law school. I shared my anxiety over an upcoming mock trial for a clinic. I couldn’t help but laugh when she told me to stop hanging out with the homeless and study/prepare instead. She’s right. If I were representing her, maybe that would have made the facts of my case seem/feel more “real.”

I’m still partly in the ivory tower — I have a ladder that I like to use to escape every now and then. Camera in hand, of course. It’s a good balance.

Life is interesting, isn’t it? When I look back at this journey I recognize that it all started with a camera. I started documenting the homeless as an undergraduate student, and went to graduate school with the desire to learn more about the healthcare system so I could continue developing my project on Birth Culture. And somehow it evolved into focusing on social justice issues through the lens, then law school. I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue developing this story, and I’m amazed at how my own personal life has unfolded to bring me closer to the people I reached out to in the first place. I do believe something greater is at work here. Call it God, the Universe, Mother Nature, whatever you want…

Every day is a new day. Every day is an opportunity to grow and learn from others and ourselves. Tonight I’m thinking about how all the little things in my past led me to meeting Roxy. Believe it or not, she has actually helped me to understand some of my unresolved feelings about my own mother. What it means to love someone, but from afar because it’s the healthiest way. And I’ve been able to share what it’s like to do the same, but as the child in the relationship. We were both equally touched by our emotional exchange about the feelings of loss in letting go of those we love… and accepting that some people can stay in your heart, but not in your life.

It is a beautiful thing when perfect strangers can meet with open hearts, open minds, and simply acknowledge the other in a mutually respectful and loving way. I’m glad I can share these kinds of memories and look forward to continuing the journey.


The Quiet

"Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood." - Helen Keller

“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.”
– Helen Keller

It has been a quiet month since the Kickstarter was successfully funded, and I feel as if I’ve been in a period of hibernation. I have to admit that the attention I was receiving made me uncomfortable at times. Airing out my “personal life” wasn’t exactly what I thought I would be doing to help the homeless. I had always thought that I could just focus my lens on others, share their stories, and hope that their voices wouldn’t get drowned out by the media storm.

And so here I am. My father is still doing great given his circumstances, and I have been reminding myself to not place any unrealistic expectations on either of us. The relationship will be whatever the relationship will be. I think that on my part, it will always require an exercise in establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries. Nothing changes over night.

The project itself has been evolving on many personal levels. I have been spending a lot of time flipping through old journals and a handful of photographs from my childhood. Reliving the past has become such a crucial piece in this process, and I recognize that there are many elements of my past that I would like to share. For now, I am allowing myself the time and freedom to go through these experiences and capture them on paper.

It is not easy. It is ugly and messy. It is complicated and fragile. But it is also painfully precious because it is who I am today.

I am still learning how to be comfortable with all of this. I know that there are many others who still struggle with the feelings woven into a loved one who is/was homeless, mentally ill, and/or abusive. I have felt guilty… helpless, vulnerable, heartbroken. There were times when I wished that I could just walk away from my father. All of my childhood feelings of being abandoned would swell up, almost as if it were challenging who I had become. The little girl in me wanted to kick and scream — she wanted to run away and hide and forget my father the way he forgot about me. But I knew deep down inside that my heart would never be the same if I left him there. It would never be the same if I didn’t do something… do anything.

I had been so afraid of sharing this story because of the unknown. What would people think of me? What if people judged me because I don’t “look” like the type of person who would have a homeless dad? Wait a minute, what would that “look” like anyway? The hardest part has been getting over my own self-created fears in discussing homelessness with the public. I have been emotionally and physically hurt at so many levels by my parents that I feel instinctively on-guard having to discuss homelessness. Why? Because homelessness, as a social circumstance, represents the bottom of the barrel that my father, mother, and I have all experienced at different points in our lives. So, when I see statistical figures or categorical subheadings in a policy brief compartmentalizing the homeless issue based on mental illness, substance abuse, or youth runaways — I think about my father, my mother, and myself as a 16 year-old… in that order.

There is so much beneath the surface. There always is. I hope to continue sharing as the project progresses. In the meantime, I’m still waiting for those darn bracelets to come in. That’s what I get for making a pre-Christmas order of 100 medium-sized bracelets thinking that it would fit the average male. The good news is the large-sized bracelets are in production and should be here by the end of the month. It’s a bit of set-back time wise, but I’m sure it’s all happening this way for a reason. I have learned that patience goes a long way… and I’m sure this project will continue to require a lot of thoughtful periods of reflection, and moments of patience before charging forward.