Food for thought - what can be done?

Warning - this is a long post, but I hope it causes you to think.

On a recent flight, a passenger who appeared to be homeless was evicted or in airline-speak 'removed' from the cabin. 

What was it that caused his removal? Was it his t-shirt with the politically incorrect slogan? My son had already pointed it out in the gate area. I'd think he wouldn't have made it onto the airplane if it were the shirt. (And for that matter what of the scantily-clad sunburned woman in the terminal who was preparing to board another flight home? Cover up, people, we don't want to brush up against your bare belly when sitting next to you). 

Was it the dreadlocks and dreadlocked beard or the reddish face indicating a possible alcohol problem? I don't know. He was sitting across the aisle from me and didn't appear to be intoxicated, though I admit to avoiding eye-contact.

A difficult passenger in the exit row middle seat ahead of us was making a stink about sitting in the middle seat. He insisted on being ‎put up in a hotel at the airline's expense and get a cash refund. When the difficult passenger was told he would at most receive some complimentary airmiles, he decided to stay in his exit row seat and agreed to be responsible for opening the emergency wing door in event of a crash. After that interaction the homeless passenger asked if he could trade seats with Mr Difficult, as he didn't feel comfortable with Mr Difficult being in the exit row and possibly holding our lives in his hands. Shortly after that Mr Difficult was moved to a first class seat whereas Mr Homeless was 'removed from cabin'. As the flight attendant was asking him to bring his backpack and follow her 'to discuss', someone was actually asking on her 2-way-radio if he had been 'removed from cabin'. Awkward.

I don't know why Mr Homeless was removed. It may have been that the flight crew saw him as a ticking disruptive time bomb. Truth is, with my kids next to me, I was wondering how much sleep we would get with him across the aisle. I guess it would depend if he became disruptive or kept to himself. The woman sitting next to him was visibly relieved when he was 'removed'. I can't blame her either. Would you want to sit next to a potentially disruptive person on a 5 hour cross-Pacific flight? Not the way I would want to end my Maui-vacation.

And yet... I wonder. Where was he going? What is his story? The State of Hawaii helps pay for one way flights out of State for the State's homeless residents, if they are only willing to go. Was he one of them? Or did a family member on the mainland pay for his flight home, be it out of compassion, to put him through rehab, or to bring him closer to family and a support network?‎ Was he traveling to say goodbye to a dying parent? What happened to him once off the plane? Was he offered a free hotel room and a voucher for that next flight out as Mr Difficult wanted? And how will his next seat companion feel about his presence? These days flights are so full, it's unlikely he'd be given a row to himself.

To his credit he followed the flight attendant quietly and quickly off the plane without making a fuss. Did he make a scene once off the plane? Will this put him over the edge and set him on a drinking/drug binge? Will he change his mind about leaving the island? What did this do to an already battered self-confidence? I don't know. It did give me cause for thought as I considered how I feel and deal with the homeless and others I don't feel comfortable around.

Yes, Maui (and Hawaii) has a homeless population. There are two types - the working poor who can't find or can't afford to rent a place and instead live in their cars, tents or friends' couches. A number of years ago, a classmate of one of my kids was living in a car at a local beach park for a few weeks. A while later I heard he and his siblings were in foster care. Affordable housing is in very short supply on Maui. In fact, when registering for school there is a form you fill out, asking you to describe where you live (if you don't have a physical address), as in which beach, which forested grove etc. This is to see if they qualify for additional services.

And then we have the 'other' homeless. The veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. The mentally disabled. The addicts. The non-conforming free-spirits. The dog owners.

Are they dangerous? For the most part no, but please do use common sense. Do they panhandle? Very rarely. They usually keep to themselves. In Kihei St Theresa's Catholic Church's Hale Kau Kau program serves a free nightly dinner for those in need (they accept food donations there if you have sealed packages). I am told there are services and shelters for the homeless, though I really haven't looked into it. ‎We also have the Maui Food Bank and the Feed My Sheep program that help the poor. And the public schools provide free breakfast and lunch to students in need, and also a bag of food to get them through weekends (Backpack buddies program sponsored by the Maui Food Bank).

Having lived in frigid Calgary (Alberta) and BCs lower mainland, Hawaii seems an attractive place to be homeless. The weather is great year-round. But obviously, this is not a life I wish upon anyone.

‎How can you help? Isn't that always the question. People have strong views on this - does it really make a difference or are you 'just' enabling? At minimum, donate those extra groceries you bought but didn't eat. If the packages are still sealed and the food is non-perishable, the Food Bank will take them. Many condo complexes have donation bins on property or can direct you to one. And if the package is already open, consider leaving it for your cleaning lady. Don't leave the fridge full of food. She will be annoyed as it will take her an extra half hour to clear the fridge - usually they are on a tight schedule with a few condos to clean before check-in time. But leave some things you think she may take (generally not things that may have spoiled if left out, like mayo, sausage, raw meat), and have them in the fridge in a bag she can grab and put in a cooler. If she doesn't need them, she may pass them on to a friend in need.

Not exactly a vacation-happy blog entry. But I hope it will cause you and me to reflect on how we treat those around us. Honestly, I was also avoiding eye contact with Mr Homeless across the aisle, hoping he wouldn't start talking to me. How did that make him feel? How do my actions make others feel? 

Regarding the flight situation, I don't know what the back story was and so I can't poke holes in decisions made by the flight attendants that day. They have a job to do, and were faced with a tough decision. I like to think that they were giving him a chance, but then he blew it. I like to think that tomorrow he'll have another chance to fly. I am a bit of an optimist, I guess. What would I have done had it been my call? I don't know.