Acton Institute Powerblog

Hating the Homeless in Hawaii

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Untitled 3Hawaii is consistently ranked as one of the states where most Americans want to live. But for many residents, the island life is more nightmare than tropical dream. The high cost of living and lack of affordable housing contributes to Hawaii having one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country.

The state government has attempted to address the crisis in ways that are sometimes as creative as they are disturbing. Earlier this year, the state legislature voted to establish a program that would pay for a one-way ticket to send homeless residents to the mainland. The program was dubbed a “return-to-home” program despite the fact that more than half of the homeless population being lifetime residents or people who lived in Hawaii a minimum of 20 years.

But that program created by the state’s lawmakers seems downright compassionate compared to how one individual state lawmaker is addressing the problem. State Rep. Tom Brower (D.) roams the streets of his district armed with a sledgehammer and smashes any shopping carts he finds that are used by the homeless:

f the carts have a store’s insignia still on them, Brower gallantly returns them to the rightful owner. If, however, he can’t tell where the carts originated from, he pulls out his trusty sledgehammer.

“If I see shopping carts that I can’t identify,” he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, “I will destroy them so they can’t be pushed on the streets.”

(Before you judge, note that he kindly takes out any belongings in the carts and leaves them on the ground where he found them.)

Brower, according to the Star-Advertiser, is “disgusted” by the city’s chronic homelessness problem and has decided to take a self-proclaimed “tough-guy” approach to solving it. In addition to his shopping cart rampage, he also rouses homeless people if he sees them sleeping at bus stops during the day.

“If someone is sleeping at night on the bus stop, I don’t do anything,” he told the Star-Advertiser. “But if they are sleeping during the day, I’ll walk up and say, ‘Get your ass moving.'”

The media reports do not explain why Rep. Brower has not yet been arrested for destroying private property that he finds in non-public spaces. Presumably, a sledgehammer-wielding homeless man would be thrown in jail for carrying out the same actions. But apparently the power and privilege of being a lawmaker exempts Brower from the laws, both natural and civil, that apply to common citizens.

We should pray for the homeless men and women in Hawaii. Being without shelter is not only an indignity and hardship but compounds just about every other adversity that can befall a human being.

However, we should pray even more intently for the men and women, like Brower, who are infected by hatred for their fellow man. If there is one affliction even worse than being homeless, it’s living inside the self-made prison of hate.

Update: The negative response to his actions has lead Brower to put away his sledgehammer.

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


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  • Joel

    Give me a break. Where was the hate? The guy is destroying stolen property so that it can’t be used to further trash the city. I did the exact same thing when I lived in a neighborhood full of homeless. They used to go to the bathroom on my house and sleep in my bushes. This isn’t hate, this is cleaning up the streets! How does letting them keep their stolen property help them get off the street, give them dignity, or help them in life? It doesn’t!!

    • EMW

      You’re putting all homeless people in the same basket. It’s like saying a black guy mugged me once so we should ban all black people from owning knives. It’s prejudiced and hateful toward an entire group.

      If an individual commits a crime, go after the individual, not all the people of his social class.

      • Joel

        EMW, I am not putting all homeless people in the same basket, I am saying that the basket they are pushing down the street is always stolen. Yes, always. My question stands, how does letting them keep their stolen property help get them off the streets? Letting them keep their baskets does NOT help them but it DOES trash our cities.

  • Kim

    How does this find a solution to the homeless problem? Brower is a heartless coward with no empathy. He is incapable of understanding the daily struggles of someone with no home, no food and no where to go. A week or two on the streets might change his attitude.

  • Wesley

    Joel, I think that getting homeless people off the streets is getting homeless people off the streets. Bashing their stuff so as to discourage them from coming into a certain area is not getting homeless people off the street.

    I acknowledge that there may be some homeless who actually are homeless by their own refusal to do anything else, but our noble Captain Hawaii bashing the evil shopping carts is not actually fixing anything. From the information presented, it appears that this silly politician has too much faith in the political system, so much so that if it fails to aid in getting homeless people off the streets, then the only solution is to destroy the homeless people, rather than him practicing his own personal benevolence and generosity (which can be gentle love, OR tough love).

    It looks like the democrat version of Tim James.

    • Joel

      Wesley, you said “there may be some homeless who actually are homeless by their own refusal to do anything else.” There “may be”? Wesley do you know, I mean really know, any homeless people? I know hundreds of them and I don’t know any of them who are there for any other reason. Many of them like living on the street! I have even seen them turn down jobs!

      I don’t mean to be rude, but note your confusion about what is actually happening here. You said “then the only solution is to destroy the homeless people.” You, like the lady in the video, do not understand that a shopping cart is not a person. This is not violence against homeless people, this is the destruction of stolen property that is used to trash the city.

      We (as a people) need to get our rose colored glasses off when it comes to the homeless. Personally, I believe that part of the problem is derived from a misunderstanding regarding Biblical texts about the poor. The poor in Jesus’ time were quite a bit different than the American homeless. Don’t forget that the farmers would leave behind gleanings but the poor still had to WORK to get them. The farmers were not to collect all of the food and then give it to someone who is too lazy, drunk, or high to work for it.

      By the way, I am not against helping the poor, I have sponsored several children in developing countries and I have done lots of homeless ministry in this country and others!

      • Mo86

        Thank you, thank you for saying these things!

        I used to have somewhat rose colored glasses on about “the homeless” as well, until I started hearing stories in my own city of homeless people who would REFUSE shelter even on the most brutal winter days/nights because they did not want to go to a shelter! I just thought… what?! You’re outside in a midwestern winter where you could get frostbite and DIE, and someone offers you shelter and you don’t want it because it’s not up to your personal preferences?

        I’ll never forget the day I was eating a sandwich I think from from Arby’s in a park downtown. I saw a homeless guy and I think he asked for money. Not sure if I even had any at the time, but I offered him half my sandwich. He had the NERVE to ask me what kind it was. And then turned me down when it was not a kind he liked. Can you believe that?! If you are truly hungry, you are not going to ask, “What kind of sandwich?” much less turn it down. That infuriated me and I have never forgotten it.

        Contrast this to the woman I saw near my home in my old neighborhood. I remembered that I had some leftover pasta from the night before and I asked her if she would like it. She said, “Yes.” I asked her if she could wait until I ran home and got it for her and she agreed. So I ran home (a few blocks) got the pasta, heated it up, got some plastic utensils and a napkin and ran back. I wasn’t sure if she would even be there. She was, and ate it gratefully. And she was so thankful. Now that was a truly needy person.

        The stories are endless of homeless people who refuse help, who demand – not ask, but DEMAND – money, and who take advantage in every way imaginable. This has always been very disturbing and confusing for me because I am constantly told that as followers of Christ, we are to help the poor and needy.

        Yes, we are. But the Bible also makes it VERY clear that those who refuse to work (not those who simply can’t find work) but those who do not want to work even when work is offered to them, should not eat.

        It is also not morally right to allow people to take advantage of others by coming into their neighborhoods or even personal property and relieving themselves there, or taking things that don’t belong to them, or walking around drunk/high and causing a nuisance, or any of these sorts of things. It is not “love” to simply allow them to do such things and not intervene to get them to stop these destructive behaviors.

        It’s one thing to be truly in need. It’s quite another to take advantage of the kindness of others while showing ZERO desire to take some responsibility for your own life and behavior.

        But when it comes to this issue, I have never seen a Christian organization, church or individual mention these basic facts. In fact, if you do mention any of this, you’ll be looked upon like you are a monster.

        The Bible does not condone the sort of laziness, irresponsibility, substance abuse and crime that characterizes most homeless people. Yes, they need help. But simply allowing them to do whatever they like without also calling them into account for their behavior does not help them.

      • Tabatha Paia-Sobrado

        Yeah well check this out.. I was homeless for a year and a half. From August 1,2013 to December 5,2014 living out in KakaakoMakai with my husband and 3 year old daughter all because one day, my husband had a heart attack, from there everything went downhill for my family

  • Joel

    I ran a business in a REALLY bad part of a large city for several years where I had a large number of homeless customers. I tried to help many of them
    but in the end I ended up having to stop doing business with them. Out of
    the 150 or so homeless, that I knew on a first name basis, I only knew of only one
    who was trying to get off the streets, and he did it in less than 2 months.
    With the rest I had to get tough on them and ban the worst ones from
    my business. It was the best move I could have made. No more naked
    people hiding in corners, no more drugged out people passing out and getting
    injured, no more piles of trash, and no more human fecal matter smeared on my
    walls. By the way, most of what the homeless keep in their shopping carts is trash that they found along the way. I have literally seen it thousands of times.

    I don’t know why we assume that there is a solution to the homelessness problem apart from Christ. No amount of shopping carts, government assistance, food stamps, or other help will do anything when the problem is the fallen nature of man.

    By the way, Joe’s article is pretty biased, note that he criticizes the “return-to-home” program by arguing that over half of the homeless have been there for more than 20 years, but that leaves a huge percentage that haven’t been there that long. If any city could get rid of 20-30% of its homeless population for the lost cost of a plane ticket they would be wise to do it!

    • Tabatha Paia-Sobrado

      I don’t know where you’re from but please refrain from believing the last paragraph in this comment of yours. Cause plane ticket mentioned in the article only qualifies those homeless who got a plane ticket to live in Hawaii. That 26% of the homeless population came from the mainland; 7% from Micronesia 8% from Samoa 2% from Guam ;2% from the Philippines ; and the remaining 55% are local residents and majority of that percentage are Hawaiian.

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  • Hawaii Transient

    In supporting that SOME (not all of) homeless people would rather stay homeless: there was this homeless barefoot guy who would always sit on the sidewalk in Union Square during NYC’s horrible winters. One day a police officer found it in the kindness of his heart to give the guy boots to keep his feet warm. But guess what? The very next day the homeless guy was found barefoot again.
    Moreover, that same guy was said to have a paid house in the Bronx, but he was arbitrarily deciding to live on the street instead.
    Some people unfortunately just can’t be helped.