Denby Fawcett: How One Man Overcame Addiction And Homelessness - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat’s views.

Stan Webb’s decision to give up his life as a transient and to stop smoking crystal meth is the story of only one man’s recovery. But at a time when chronic homelessness in Hawaii can seem overwhelming, Webb’s decision to change his life offers hope.

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Today Webb is the lead volunteer at HNL Tool Library in Kakaako, a nonprofit that offers its members the chance to check out as many expensive tools as they want, the same way you borrow books at a library.

“Stan is an awesome person, a rare being who is sweet, kind, generous and caring to others. His help, his understanding of tools has been a game changer for us,” says Tool Library founder Elia Bruno.

Webb’s experience shows how others whose lives have become fragmented by drugs, mental illness or other forms of trauma can become whole again, but the path back is never easy and is different for each person.

I met Webb four years ago after he sent me an email about one of my Civil Beat columns on homelessness. We got together for coffee at Starbucks in Kakaako and have been corresponding by email ever since.

I told him at that time I wanted to write about his return to a life as a productive citizen. This month he finally agreed to share his story. I am glad because his strength of character shows how a life, any life that has veered off track, should never be written off permanently.

Webb can recite to exactly the day when he woke up eight years ago in his tent on the slopes of Diamond Head and decided he was going to quit crystal meth cold turkey and give up his homeless lifestyle.

“I realized I was destroying my health, my mental capability. My kidneys were starting to shut down. I was in physical pain. I said to myself, ‘That’s it. No more,’” he says.

Stan Webb rides his bicycle outside the Re-Use Hawaii Warehouse that houses the Tool Library, where he spends many of his days as a volunteer. David Croxford/Civil Beat/2022

Webb lived on the upper slopes of Diamond Head for almost a decade. During that time, he said he was never visited by any outreach worker because he purposefully pitched his tent very high on the mauka slopes of the crater above the Diamond Head Lighthouse — a site reached only by a perilous climb.

‘Out Of Sight And Out Of Mind’

He became homeless in 2005 after becoming addicted to crystal meth.

“I got fired. Nobody wanted to hire me, I could no longer perform my duties. That put me in the street. I lost everything,” he says.

He came to Hawaii 30 years ago when he got tired of constant travel as a technical director for stage and lighting for Maritz Communication Inc., an establishment in St. Louis, Missouri, that organizes employee incentive trips and meetings for large companies.

Webb had been a technical lighting and sound expert for staged events since he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in theater production from the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

Going from being a professional person to the fragmented existence of a homeless person was more difficult than he initially imagined. He was surprised to find out how challenging it was to get a good night’s rest.

“That’s the No. 1 concern of homeless people, to find somewhere to sleep where you won’t be beaten up when you close your eyes or have all your stuff stolen. Some people are comfortable sleeping on a sidewalk in Waikiki but I was not one of them,” he said.

Another surprise, Webb said, was the large number of people who glared at him with scorn or even backed away from him in fear.

His first year on the street he slept in bus stops. A favorite was at University Avenue and Date Street, where he would go each night at 9:30 p.m. after the last bus pulled out. To keep out of sight, he would pack up and leave early each morning before the first bus of the day arrived. But one day he overslept.

He remembers waking up on the bench to find the bus riders standing in the rain outside of the cover of the bus stop, afraid to be anywhere near him.

Tents found along the slopes of Diamond Head on outing with Denby's story.
Diamond Head is a popular hiking destination, but many homeless people also set up camp on its slopes. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016

“The contempt and the fear from the public was something I did not expect,” Webb said. That was when he decided to move to the seclusion of Diamond Head where he could be, as he put it: “Out of sight and out of mind.”

A Happy Childhood

Living as a solitary drug addict on a volcanic crater was a long way from his kindly childhood.

Webb was born 69 years ago to a poor family in the small town of Union, Missouri, 40 miles west of St. Louis.

His parents went to school only through eighth grade and married when they were teenagers. His mother was a third-generation worker in a shoe factory, and his father was a carpenter before taking over a small farm inherited from his parents.

“The nonprofits understand that to reduce the numbers of homeless, you have to first treat the causes.” — Stan Webb

His father was so determined that Stan and his brother get college educations that he bought male calves that were unwanted by a nearby dairy farm to nipple feed for a year until he could sell them to a meat producer. The money from selling the calves was put into two separate college savings accounts for the boys.

Webb said his family insisted that each morning he and his brother get up, get dressed, go to the barn to do their chores and eat breakfast before taking the bus to school. If they failed to do their chores his father made them walk to school.

He remembered waking up one morning, furious because his father still insisted they do their farm chores even though it was Christmas Day. He and his brother, grumbling and mad, opened the door to the barn to find a pony his parents had bought them as a surprise. “That’s the kind of people they were,” he said.

His homeless days became a cycle of getting hot meals at feeding stations run by churches and nonprofit groups as well as recycling bottles for extra money and discovering other simple ways to eat such as buying a cup of hot water from Waikiki McDonald’s for 52 cents and using it to make ramen noodles.

He spent each day in Kapiolani Park on a mat at Queen’s Beach where he read novels he bought at used-book stores or borrowed from the library before heading back to Diamond Head for the night.

A Turning Point

He said turning 62 and qualifying for Social Security was another impetus to get off crystal meth and seek housing. He thought he would be able to succeed with a steady income from Social Security combined with a small pension he would start receiving from his years as a theater technical director.

His praise is strong for Hawaii’s nonprofits, which he says have a much better grip on the causes of homelessness than politicians do.

“The nonprofits understand that to reduce the numbers of homeless, you have to first treat the causes such as drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness and financial stress, not the symptoms by trying to sweep people off the streets, keep them out of sight,” he says.

But he adds that no matter how high the quality of a program offered by a nonprofit, it will not work if a homeless person doesn’t take full responsibility for his or herself to see it through.

Stan Webb says he’s lucky that he got help in getting off the streets. David Croxford/Civil Beat/2022

Kimo Carvalho, a former spokesman and chief fundraiser for the Institute for Human Services, says a key problem in treating homelessness is that there aren’t enough outreach workers to intervene and serve homeless people like Webb who are ready to seek help.

Webb says he was lucky. He especially benefited from the medical intervention of the nonprofit Waikiki Health Center and Catholic Charities, which helped him find a studio in subsidized housing in the Na Lei Hulu Kupuna building on Cooke Street in Kakaako.

He has become an advocate for the older residents in the building by writing letters and attending meetings to try to get the city to lessen impacts of the rail project to be constructed 20 feet away from the home for the elderly. He also checks in regularly with the Honolulu Police Department’s community service officer to report drug dealing and violent fights in Mother Waldron Park adjacent to the building.

“I am civically engaged. I pay attention,” he says.

Webb says he would tell anyone who wants to help the homeless to look at people as human beings rather than untouchables to be scorned or feared. And to do what they can to support nonprofits that are engaged in trying to reduce homelessness.

He is his own best example that the trauma that drives many people into homelessness does not have to be permanent, that a person who is willing can have a fulfilling life again.

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About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat’s views.

Latest Comments (0)

Thank you for another excellent column Denby - you are a treasure. Stan's story brings some hope to a terrible epidemic. The number of homeless living around Diamond Head and throughout Honolulu is tragic. Our public parks and sidewalks are unsafe and filthy. We need to be honest and acknowledge that most homeless living on the streets have drug and mental health issues; many are criminals and are violent. Our governmental officials continue to ignore this reality. Resources need to be made available to give those who want help what they need. However, our community deserves to have its public spaces returned to their intended purposes and to be clean and safe. Our state and county governments are flush with cash to address this problem, only a clear plan forward is needed.

DRosen · 11 months ago

I totally agree with most of the comments that boil down to the fact the the homeless are human beings and not monsters. One thing, which has nothing to do with anything, is McDonalds charges 52 cents for a cup of hot water...... Wow!!!

Ken · 11 months ago

Once he got clean and housed, I hope he shared his meth dealer contacts with HPD and federal DEA agents. Homelessness is not a crime, but selling drugs to homeless addicts sure as hell is. Those people are evil.

NoPlaceLikeHome · 11 months ago

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