Sunday, October 14, 2007

Musings: A Widening Gap

Slept in, lulled by rain, but the sun was peeking out by the time I got up. Despite the big clouds mauka, I decided to chance ‘em and headed for the Laundromat, confident my clothes would dry on the line eventually.

In the parking lot, a guy was taking advantage of the bright morning light to trim his nose hairs in the rear view mirror. OK.

Ran into my buddy Ken Stokes, who was the keynote speaker at yesterday’s sustainability conference in Lihue. If you missed the event, as I did, you can still get the meat by reading his speech.

He was disappointed the conference ran long and more people didn’t stick around to hear the closing speech by Stacy Sproat, who is not only one of my personal heroes, but actually pursuing a working model of sustainability at Waipa.

Achieving sustainability is a daunting prospect on an island where the top three industries — tourism, military and building lavish vacation homes — are totally, and inherently, unsustainable.

Still, I welcome the growing interest in the subject, as achieving it is the only way to resolve the growing disparity between this island's rich and poor.

Ken addressed the subject in his factors column in this week’s Kauai People, where he compares the distribution of wages and rents and finds — surprise! — that Kauai rents are skewed toward the high end, while wages are skewed toward the low end.

As a result, a lot of folks are choosing between paying the rent and eating. Some 20 percent of Kauai residents are “food insecure,” according to the message printed on the brown bags now being distributed (in hopes they'll be fiilled for the hungry) by Kauai's Food Bank.

MaBel Fujiuchi, head of KEO, which is working to open the island’s first homeless shelter and convert the old courthouse into transitional housing for families awaiting affordable rentals, told me last week that at least 1,000 residents are homeless.

And that doesn’t include those crowded in with family or pursuing their own novel arrangements for shelter, which I describe in this piece I wrote when I was houseless, but fortunately not homeless, for a month last spring.


I am looking for a rental, a new place to live, appalled by the prices and even more by the stories, especially of women and children moving from one house to another as each is sold out beneath them, and the plight of one single mother, in particular, who asks her uncle for permission to park her horse trailer in his yard so she can fix it up for herself and four kids. She’d thought of living on the beach, but heard the state will take your children away if they discover you are homeless.

Uncle says yes, of course; he’d take them all in if he could, but his own house is small and already shared with others, so the next day his niece moves her trailer to Uncle’s back yard and cleans it real good, attaching a tarp for a lean-to kitchen, cooking for the keiki on a single-burner propane stove. Uncle runs a water line and extension cord from his house so they can enjoy the comforts of hot showers, refrigeration, and they bring in a portable toilet because the kids can’t be running into the house all the time, or making shishi in the bushes.

They live like this for four months until finally there’s an opening at the county’s rental complex near Lihue. It’s a small, two-bedroom apartment to be shared by the five of them, but Uncle says they’re ecstatic because it’s a real home, and besides, it’s bigger than the trailer, and while I’ve never met this woman, or her children, I think of them as I drive each day to the beach past a dozen spacious, and empty, vacation rentals.

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