Sidewalk property and camping ban enforcement sweeps are returning to Kakaako streets, and I am wondering about a particular woman. I know little about her aside from her name and the fact that she lives on the sidewalk across the street from the John A Burns School of Medicine.

Last Wednesday, as I made plans to attend a talk by reproductive justice advocate Dr. Willie Parker at the medical school, the thought occurred that it was a chance to bring some supplies to the large homeless encampment that has sprouted in Kakaako in the heart of urban Honolulu.

I admit I felt some trepidation. Would I be welcome? Would I be reviled as a dilettante do- gooder? Would I be able to quietly deliver an offering to one person, family or location or would folks be desperate enough to fight over them? Or like that state legislator who was ignorant of, or simply ignored, requests by homeless teens to stop taking photographs of them, might I be chased, robbed or beaten? Then I thought of the girl scouts who visited and passed out hygiene packs. Dang, if 10 year olds can do it, surely I can give it a try.

Little baby waits in their stroller as mom assists a man with disassembling his tent along Cooke Street as City and County workers pick up trash along Ohe Street as part of the city's homeless cleanup in Kakaako. 8 sept 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
A baby waits in a stroller as mom assists a man disassembling his tent along Cooke Street, as Honolulu city and county workers pick up trash along Ohe Street — part of the city’s homeless cleanup in Kakaako. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“First, Do No Harm” is an ethical principle all healthcare students are taught in school, attributed to Hippocrates. I prepared a couple bags of non-perishable food and paper goods, with the intention of scoping out the situation once I got there to see which way the scales might balance.

I drove through rush hour traffic and sweltering heat in my air conditioned car and arrived well before the talk was to begin. Carrying two full reusable cloth bags, I walked towards the medical school. A scattering of tents, belongings and a large pile of rubbish lay along the sidewalks across the street from campus. One resident’s paintings of Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley were posted along the fence.

The densely packed core of the encampment was visible in the next block. I was walking along the “edges” of the encampment, said to be home to 293 men, women and children, at last census. These edges are the portions the City announced it plans to sweep on Sept. 8.

I look for a settlement with signs of women, perhaps children. I soon see a lone person at work outside her collection of tents, tarps and belongings. A plastic red toddler slide, stroller and child’s bicycle indicate the possible presence of children.

I look for a settlement with signs of women, perhaps children. I soon see a lone person at work outside her collection of tents, tarps and belongings. A plastic red toddler slide, stroller and child’s bicycle indicate the possible presence of children.

“Hello, excuse me,” I call from a few feet away. When she looks up, I ask if she could use some canned food and paper goods. She nods, so I come closer and introduce myself.

She introduces herself, too, and instinctively, as is the custom in Hawaii, she reaches over for a hug of greeting. We embrace, lightly, naturally, as we would in any other social setting.

“It looks like you have some kids here,” I observe.

“Yes, three of them,” she confirms. I might have asked her more, might have heard more of her story if I had asked, but I wanted to respect her privacy. She looked busy.

“Good luck with all the changes coming up,” I added as I turned to leave.

“Yeah, September 8th … not sure yet what we’re doing.” She may have said thank you; I know she said, “God bless.”

I crossed the street and entered a tall, cool, blue glass-windowed world, and took the elevator to the second floor where extremely youthful looking med students had prepared delicious sandwiches and bottled water for the evening symposium attenders. One student, her hair in a bun, a small jewel stud in her nose, later announced to those assembled, through her tears, that a group of students were preparing to hand out bottles of water on the day of the sweep.

“It’s not much, just to show that someone cares,” she said.

As I was leaving, I mentioned to her that I have heard some of the best doctors I know wonder out loud whether they are really helping patients with “multiple comorbidities” and complex life situations. “When I hear that, I remind them that sometimes the best thing you can offer is kindness and respect. It’s like that Jewel song: “In the end, only kindness matters…”

“Oh, I love Jewel,” she exclaims, reaching over for a hug.

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