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Lahaina Homeless Ejection a Tragedy

The way we treat our most vulnerable citizens is shameful.

July 12, 2012
Linda Green · Occupy Wall Street Maui, Lahaina - Occupy Wall Street Maui, Lahaina , The Maui Weekly

When West Maui Councilmember Elle Cochran initiated the task force that was to eject hundreds of homeless people from unused private land (The Maui News, June 27), she began a process that could only end tragically. It was not just a tragedy for those with nothing, forced to move from one area of desolate scrub to another with little hope of respite. It was a tragedy in exposing once again how determined people can so easily, and with apparent popular (electoral) approval, trample the legal, constitutional and civic rights of others just because neighbors had an "unsafe feeling."

The action was also shameful, as another chapter in our own continuing story of heartlessness and hand washing in the way we treat our most vulnerable citizens--the homeless, mentally ill, drug users, and those unfortunates in more than one of those marginalized classes. To say that only a dozen or so were assisted by social services, out of the hundreds on the site, shows a lack of effective outreach that should have someone fired and the rest of us ashamed.

This, however, is the reality of being homeless on Maui. The community can find, at short notice, the county and nonprofit resources to evict people occupying private land. But apparently nothing is available to actually offer them any of the help--housing, or treatment, or real jobs--that might have kept them from having to string a tarp from one kiawe to another and call that few square feet of abandoned cane field "home."

Shelters are full, private housing out of reach, mental health support barely there. Meantime, ready relief in the form of pakalolo, ice, or something cheap in a bottle or can is all too available.

That Ms. Cochran (supposedly a progressive Democrat, familiar with hardship and discrimination) should be the driver of such actions is not just sad, but shocking. She places herself alongside Honolulu's Tulsi Gabbard, another self-proclaimed social progressive, author of the Honolulu ordinance now used to seize the property of both homeless people and Occupy protesters exercising their First Amendment rights.

And Ms. Cochran also aligns herself with others across the country who turn a blind eye to the reality of recession and its human fallout, and think they can make it go away by making it a criminal act to feed the homeless, or for a homeless person to find an almost-dry place to sleep.

To dismiss the people evicted from this unused land as somehow incapable or undeserving, apparently without hearing or due process, or to trivialize them as for being "clean cut" or having a "one-way ticket," is to miss the point. They are human beings, with the same inalienable human rights and needs as the rest of us. As American citizens, they are further guaranteed their right of freedom of movement. The freedoms from being locked away against your will, and to go and be where you want to be, are fundamental expressions of those rights.

Ms. Cochran's action, if accurately reflected in The Maui News article, raises many troubling questions. Was proper notice given under the law? If advance notice of the action was given, why did social service agencies wait until almost everyone had left before intervening? Were there attempts made to identify individuals beforehand, or would the possible flood of claimants to ADA-related services have been too troublesome--too inconvenient? Did anyone consider "services-in-place?" Why were county resources apparently used in an action to clear private land? Why is a member of the council taking a lead role in an administrative action? Long-term, what do we really think will happen to these hundreds of people? Where will they be herded off to next? And is it really true that the broader public supports this action?

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