From November 7, 2013

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Earlier this evening, I had the opportunity to attend a play based on interviews with over 60 members of the island’s homeless community and also from those trying to help them. Houseless in Paradise was complied and shaped by Mark Tjarks and directed by Terri Madden. With over a 100 hours of audio from 60 narratives, trying to condense it into a two hour play seems impossible.

But it worked. Beautifully.

It was only an hour long, at least the version that showed tonight. It was preview night, the first time this play was done in front of a live audience. If it were the full production at two hours, I would have broken down in tears. I was emotionally numb walking down Fort Street on my way to the bus stop– seeing all the homeless sleeping in front of shops.

Unfortunately, it is numbing, because the environment in which I attend classes, downtown Honolulu, is considered to be one of the most homeless populated on the island. I pass by homeless regularly, and I am so used to them, I no longer look at them as I did as a child, wondering why, why are they this way?

The play showed stories from both the homeless and the ones trying to solve the issue of homelessness. The play was broken down into several vignettes, usually containing a monologue or a call and response from the rest of the cast to the monologue-ist(?), but what I found really entertaining was the talented singer, kind of acting as the Greek Chorus – singing in between the vignettes.

What I took most from the performances was the notion of “varying degrees of homelessness.” When Dr. Tjarks (my former screenwriting professor) talked about the varying degrees of homelessness, I didn’t quite capture the concept. Aren’t all people without homes, homeless? Sure, some have drug addictions, family problems, etc. But what does that mean, “varying degree of homelessness?”

There are various circumstances that put people into homelessness and various forces that prevent these homeless from getting help, or out of the system.

A woman became homeless because her husband, recently retired from the military, left her stranded in Hawaii and denied her from receiving military benefits. The policy takes care of the veterans, but not the veterans’ family (it must go through the veteran’s approval). It’s completely disgusting.

Homelessness carries a stigmatism in regards to drug addiction. The EBT system is flawed – one can go do shady business and trade in their benefits for cash, or better yet, buy a case of spam and sell it to a vendor for half the market price. The play doesn’t posit any solutions, nor do I, but I find it interesting how people can fall through (willingly) the net the State and Federal programs provide. These are those people’s testimonies.

It wasn’t all dramatic. One story that I gravitated towards (because it was funny), was a former extra from Lost and Hawaii 5-O, found himself homeless. Sitting on a bench at St. Francis Hospital. A security guard came to kick him off. The guy had no place to go. He thought to himself, “Now’s the time to see how good of an actor you are.”

The guy faked a heart attack. He was taken to Kaiser for five days. Five days with a roof over his head and food on his plate.

Another story that I enjoyed talked about the burden of older homeless people who feel they are burdening their children by living with them. There’s the adage of parents should never bury their children, but you would think, at least I do, that here in Hawaii it is acceptable for generations of family members to live under the same roof.

Sad, funny, heartwarming, inspiring. Tonight made me put on my “Ghandi” thinking cap, trying to figure out things I could do for humanity. What tonight made me do. was to stop being in my own head so much – learn to breathe. I’ve been so busy with a bunch of different things, a bunch of creative things and I haven’t been able to remove myself from the realities in my head. I feel I need to give back.

Thank you Dr. Tjarks. Thank you to all the cast and crew that made the production possible. Thank you to the homeless, the houseless, and the ones trying to solve homelessness for sharing your stories.

I highly recommend everyone to see this play.

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