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…




“Addressing the most needed areas, helping the lowest first.”

Vincent and I taking a moment to capture a photograph together.

Vincent and I taking a moment to capture a photograph together.

A few days ago, I agreed to do an interview with BBC and found myself sitting in the Hawai`i Public Radio station at 9:00pm waiting for a call from London. As I sat and waited for the reporter to ring in, I looked around the room where I “came out” and shared my story for the first time.

The phone rang.

It was surreal to hear the voice on the other end ask questions about my life. We spent nearly an hour talking about life and my personal experiences with my father. What it was like to see him for the “first time,” and what that “first time” really meant. At the end of the interview, I really wasn’t sure what the direction of the story would be. I know it is largely up to the reporters to edit… we shall see.

It was past 10:00pm by the time I walked out of the station. I realized that the last time I made this drive home at night was when my father was still on the streets. As I quietly drove down the street where my father use to sleep, I felt the need to pull over. I pulled the car to the side, in front of a meter, like I had done hundreds of times. And then I walked out towards the doorway where my father slept.

I stood there by myself… soaking in the fluorescent light hanging from the storefront. I raised my fingertips to the sides of the doorway, feeling the roughness of the frame. Slowly, I sunk down to the floor and breathed in my moment of solitude in that doorway.

“He survived… He got out,” I said to myself. 

I said a quiet prayer that night… to the world, to my universe/God/creator. As I got back into the car to drive away, I noticed a man walking towards my direction. He had a bag full of recyclables, just like my father did. I was getting ready to leave, but I felt this pull to stay.

“It’s late… should I stay? Should I go?”

I decided to stay.

Stopping for Vincent

I rolled down my window and waved at him. He looked surprised. I smiled at him and asked if he was hungry — if it’d be alright to hangout with him. He nodded that it was. I sat next to him and learned his name… Vincent. That he has been living on the streets for quite some time, wants to be a marriage therapist to help couples and families with conflict resolution. I could tell that his more recent relationship issues were plaguing his heart, and that he was carrying a painful weight he couldn’t accept.

Vincent gazing at the cars passing by.

Vincent gazing at the cars passing by.

We talked about the society that continues to unfold in front of us, and what that means for the people who live on the streets. I shared my own story with him, and how I feel most “alive” when I’m connecting with others like him. As the night continued, I found myself confiding in him of my own dreams and hopes in this lifetime, along with my doubts and insecurities. He shared his life mantra with me that evening, and I’d like to share it with you…

“I want my life to be about addressing the most needed areas, helping the lowest first.”

Hearing this made me smile. Vincent was kind enough to point out that my life journey was already manifesting this purpose. And then he brought up his desire to be a marriage therapist again. I could tell this was really important to him… And in some weird way, I actually felt like he already was a therapist. We spent over an hour sitting there, counseling each other, sharing our thoughts, sparking a friendship, and appreciating each others’ existence. There is something so raw and true about connecting with an open heart.

As I gave him a hug goodbye and got into my car to drive-off, I looked over at Vincent again. He looked at me, smiling this time, and I said “I know our paths will cross again Vincent — who knows, maybe you’ll be my marriage therapist!” Driving away was always the hardest part, and it still is in some ways. I don’t ever know if I’ll see these people again… I hold onto hope that our encounters did something good for them, the way it did good for me. So the journey continues…



A Time to Rest

“Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend.” – Wallace Stegner

I’m in the middle of finals week at law school, but I wanted to take a break to share what has been going on in our world. As the legislative session comes to an end, I am reminded of how public policy shapes and impacts our everyday lives. I had a conversation with my dad a couple of weeks ago about the “criminalization of homelessness,” and I have to say that I agree with his position on this issue. Rarely do we hear from the individuals who directly experienced homelessness and suffered from mental illness. I am so proud of him and his ability to articulate how these laws impact the homeless. The homeless are human. It is so important not to forget that.

I was at Costco this past weekend and ran into my former landlords. They ran up to my husband and I, smiling and waving at us with their two daughters. It was great to see them and I was surprised when they brought up the photo essay that was published last month. The wife shared how her view of the homeless changed because of what she read and the dramatic changes she saw in my dad after he was able to get treatment. God, I live to hear that… truly. It made me teary-eyed hearing her reaction. It’s this kind of support and feedback that reaffirms my path in reaching out to the homeless. And I am even more grateful for the fact that my dad is still doing well today.

I’ve been keeping a record of all the people who have e-mailed and shared their own stories of loved ones on the streets/forests/beaches of Hawai`i and am looking forward to finding them. I do believe that in every person is a soul and being that deserves respect. They may not have made the best decisions in life, or even be in a physical/mental position to make good decisions… but, they are human. Thank you to everyone for continuing to follow the journey. See you after Finals Week!

Big hugs,


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.


Thank You

An unfinished watercolor piece done by a resident at the Next Step Homeless Shelter in Kaka'ako.

An unfinished watercolor piece done by a resident at the Next Step Homeless Shelter in Kaka’ako.

The Kickstarter project was fully funded as of two weeks ago, and I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of the CARE Medical Bracelets. The outpouring support has been an incredibly encouraging and motivating source of energy these past couple of months. There are many individuals in my community who are interested in also helping with the outreach and bracelet distribution!

I wanted to take some time to thank the Kickstarter backers who opted to have a personal thank you credit appear on this website. For those of you who I know in-person, you can expect a hug from me when I see you again! And for those of you who I do not know yet, I would like to extend my sincerest gratitude for supporting this cause.

Kickstarter Backers – Thank you to:

Casey Ishitani, Backer #4

Doorae Shin, Backer #7

Noah Hawthorne, Backer #17

Nara Eko, Backer #28

Kim Huynh, Backer #43

Genevieve Julien, Backer #47

Kim Harris-McCoy, Backer #63

Lani Tak, Backer #74

Shamir Colloff, Backer #75

Christina Lynn, Backer #79

Thomas Yokota, Backer #87

“Sarah”, Backer #89

Ron Fitzherbert, Backer #105


With love,


My Dad – The Street Photographer



Dad, I love you. You’re a genius and I am learning more about the amazing mind you have with every new encounter. 

I visited my dad this morning and surprised him with an early Christmas gift —  the camera I had been using to document our time while he was living on the streets. As I handed the camera bag over to him, he raised his eyebrows and asked what it was. I anxiously told him to open it and watched him slowly open the zipper to reveal the DSLR inside.

As soon as he opened it and picked it up, I gently told him it was the camera I had used when I visited him. He was quiet and began to hold shift it around in his palms — I couldn’t tell if he liked it or not! Finally, he grinned at me and asked, “Is this digital?” I acknowledged that it was digital, and explained that very few people shoot with film these days because it’s so expensive. I wasn’t sure if he was some film purist even after all these years, so I added that many artists and die-hards have refused digital. His response cracked me up:

“Well, that’s kind of dumb if they’re already starving artists… they no more money, why make it harder?”

My father getting acquainted with his first digital camera.

My father getting acquainted with his first digital camera.

I still cannot believe he is off the streets. It’s almost like I have to consciously tell myself to breathe and slow down, so I don’t explode with my feelings and overwhelm him. I know that he is still adjusting and all we can do is take it day by day, but my heart is humbled and overflowing with pride.

We went for a drive to a local camera shop so he could get a lens cap. He was adamant that we protect the glass (shame on me for not replacing the cap), and stated “once you scratch the glass, it’s all pau… all buss’ up so it’s junk.” On our drive there, I couldn’t help but keep glancing over at him playing around the with the buttons of the camera. It warmed my heart to see him so interested and curious.

As we drove back, we entered an area of the Honolulu where I had approached him just less than 6 months ago. I wrote about that experience in an older entry, “The Ring Pop Bearer.”  Even though my dad was sitting right next to me, I could still see his silhouette on the corner of the street. It’s hard to brush that one off.

I want him to stay in this good place, to continue getting healthy, and to be able to share his talents and purpose with the world. It still scares me that something could go wrong, and I know the reality is that he could easily stop his treatment plan and find himself right back on the streets again. It is a reality that happens all the time, but I’m hoping that sparking his interest in photography will give him something to look forward to… And who knows, maybe he could earn a little something too.

For now, we’ve made plans to meet-up on certain days so I can help him store his files and show him how to edit them. He shared the importance of communicating our “personalities” through our photography, and that this is the only way the commonplace things in life can stand out. Be yourself. Show yourself. And most importantly, share yourself.

Ironically, we parted ways in front of the Hawaii Public Radio building. My final capture of him (below) was just another reminder of how fragile and fleeting our lives can be.

Life is good. Keep moving forward. There are many others still out there.


P.S. Please pledge to my Kickstarter Campaign:

It’s all or nothing, so if I don’t hit the goal… I don’t get any of the pledges.

My father looks towards the Hawai`i Public Radio building, where I shared our story.

My father looks towards the Hawai`i Public Radio building, where I shared our story.


Making it Better


Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.

– Margaret Mead

I have been thinking of more constructive ways to “make it better” for my dad and the countless other homeless who suffer from mental illness. Through my experiences in trying to get help, I have become more aware of the disconnect between various agencies and organizations in our community. For whatever reason, these organizations appear to work in silos and it is incredibly challenging to receive accurate information on where my dad can go for assistance (when he agrees to it).

I completely understand that resources are limited, and the existing system is already bogged down from having to process and maintain services. But, I do think I can help. I approached one of my mentors at the law school this past week, and came up with a plan to integrate my legal education with my personal efforts with the homeless (including my dad). I can’t think of any better way to use this time to participate in the discussion, and apply what I am learning through my legal studies. My goal is to improve the system by providing a resource manual for families who are experiencing similar struggles.

There is a wealth of information out there, but I have yet to find one place that identifies the resources, requirements, and necessary steps in getting a homeless person from Point A to Point B. So, what does that actually mean? It means that if a person living on the streets is ready and willing to receive assistance, then the goal should be to get that person help within that workday. The other is addressing the issue that I experience personally with my dad. Over the past year and a half of visiting him and trying to communicate, I have learned that I cannot anticipate how he will be mentally when I approach him. In the beginning, there were times where he did not even recognize me or speak to me. During those precious minutes when he agreed to going to a shelter and getting treatment, he would change his mind. The fragility of these moments are incredibly frustrating and heartbreaking.

I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t have a solution that will help everyone. But, I do want to make things better. Even if it means starting with my dad. I want to see him drive a taxi cab again. I want to see him standing tall and strong again. I want to share his favorite noodles with him again. One of the last “real conversations” I had with him was in the parking lot of his old apartment a few years ago. His words touched my heart, and I forgave him for everything. He said:

“Diana, I am so sorry for not being in your life. I am so happy that you have a family of your own now. Do better for them. Don’t worry about me or what everyone says about me. If you want to make me proud and happy, be there for your family the way your mom and I never were. Stop trying to save everyone… just worry about yourself and your family. And don’t forget why I named you Diana, you are the light within the darkness.”

There is a lot of pain and suffering in this world, but I truly believe that we can make a conscious choice everyday to make things better. Forgive those who ask for forgiveness, and do your best to not repeat the cycle of negativity and pain in your own life. Our time here is so short, and I would much rather die knowing that I tried to make it better. People have asked what they can do to help. In all honesty, I think we can help just by being nicer to the people around us. We all have a family member or friend who could probably use a little more positivity in their life, and yes… the homeless person sitting on the sidewalk. It’s all up to us as individuals to decide what’s the best way we can help, and then to act on it. Every small gesture of kindness can create waves of positivity in this world…

The uncertainty of what lies ahead for my dad scares me… it hurts me… but, I know there are things in life that we can change. How we choose to see any given situation, and what we do with them. I’m feeling hopeful today.

Until next time….

What Goes Around, Comes Around

Message in a Bottle

“Once she knows how to read there’s only one thing you can teach her to believe in and that is herself.”
Virginia Woolf

One of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had was teaching introductory courses at my local university. In the process, I found myself on a two-way street where my students taught me a thing or two, and I showed them how a dreadfully boring theory or concept could come alive. Our topics essentially covered all of the developmental theories from the “womb to the tomb.” We began with topics on conception, and danced through more lively topics on relationships, family, and our individual roles in the greater system around us, and ending with death and dying. It was a lot of fun, challenging, and incredibly meaningful. Oftentimes I would use personal stories as a way to highlight and illustrate a particular theory or concept.

As a teacher, I always wondered what impact I had on the students. Did my “innovative” approaches do anything? Did they really walk away feeling like they gained something more than just a letter grade? My focus has always been to create an environment for them to experience, and learn through the actual experience.

It was a beautiful little surprise when I heard from a former student about this blog. And the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

I recently had lunch with an old friend about the possibility of getting on a local radio station to share this story, and I think I am well on my way. There are a string of bills relating to homelessness that have been revived, and the radio waves seem to be filled with conversations about the homeless. I couldn’t help but notice that we have yet to really hear from those who are directly impacted. I am hoping that maybe this is my opportunity to participate in the conversation.

As I mull over which parts of my story I want to share, I continue to hear a little voice of doubt in my head. Despite the doubt and uncertainty I may feel, my former students’ message is a reminder to continue being open and share the acceptance that I have worked towards with my father.

I do believe we are all here to make the world a little brighter, a little better, and a little warmer while we can.

What goes around, comes around. Thank you DN for your beautiful message. I’ll remember it before I get on air!