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.
Labels: life on Maui