PS150 opened about two years ago on N. Pauahi Street in Chinatown, one of Honolulu’s districts for its homeless residents. Randall and Annie Kalama rented a room that could be opened up into a coffee house/’mini church’. They open to the public, to all the public, from 7 pm to 9 pm. I try to go every Wednesday evening. It is a full house tonight. The chairs are rearranged to accommodate more guests. Ran is already strumming his guitar, as he does every week. His voice clear, strong and filled with passion. The song is about having faith, unwavering faith. I do… sometimes.
I try not judge people. I understand how easily it could happen to almost anyone. Without family that can help, with physical and emotionally handicaps, as well as drug and alcohol addiction to deal with… and no money. How do get out of it? Especially when it’s been your life for the past 3, 5, 15 years. How do you change a person from accepting their lifestyle into believing there is more. There is so much more, if you believe. Is the answer within these songs?
“Last night I was down in Waikiki,” he said. He desperately needed a haircut and a bath. I wondered how he would react if he could slip into a bathtub (the old-fashioned kind with claw-feet and deep enough to swim in) filled with sudsy warm, scented water… it was just a fleeting thought. “It was pretty darn cold out, too. And windy. I didn’t have a blanket or nothing but my clothes on. So, my buddy here, came over and said to me. ‘You damn fool, we’re both gonna die out here it’s so cold, so come over here and sleep next to me. And don’t try nothing funny’ I owe him my life now, don’t you think?” I agreed it was very nice of his friend to offer his warmth for an evening of sleeping on the beach. But, I bet any homeless person in Boston, New York or Michigan would trade places in a minute to sleep under the stars on a balmy winter evening in Waikiki.
We all have a story to be told. Sometimes just listening is all that is needed. A word of encouragement or support. A sign that you care is enough to get a smile. My blessing is through my camera lens. My friends allow me to take their photographs. A newcomer is always asked for their permission before I take random shots throughout the evening. I noticed there are several new faces here this evening. I must introduce myself later. Many of my photographs are hung on the walls (framed with Goodwill deals) which gives us all a belonging to a clubhouse feeling.
We sang (I lip sync), a variety of songs, said a prayer and I took my camera out. A couple of people had come over to me regarding ‘orders’ they had requested. 1 8×10 print for a small, beautiful Filipino woman. And my buddy that once was a boxer wants to see the 3 photos I took of him last week. Of course, the young lovers are eager to have their prints, too. I see an elderly hand slowly turning the pages of the photo album I bring every week. He compliments me on 2 or 3 of the photos among the hundred or more inside. He, personally, has allowed me the opportunity to photograph him one or twice, but unless he’s feeling up to it he doesn’t like me to take his picture. No problem. I understand he wants to looks his best before the camera is clicked. Tonight he wasn’t looking his best; he had a bruise on his cheek and his bright, blue eyes weren’t very bright tonight. I listened to him tell me his story of frustration with the court system, his lawyer and the mayor of Honolulu. He obviously has fought the system before and knows his rights.
My young friends wanted me to take photographs of them. He loves to be in front of my camera, his girlfriend is a bit more camera-shy. We have a good relationship and I can easily set the atmosphere into a playful and relaxing mini-session. She is pregnant, 18 years old, and they are homeless. But, for a short time they were just a couple ‘in love’ having fun in front of my camera, no different than the couples that travel here for romantic vacation.
The faces at PS150 are always changing. I worry about some that come for a while and then seem to disappear. They are survivors, as I have learned that living on the streets has its set of rules to follow. I have learned that Chinatown has so many people sleeping on cardboards, grateful for a blanket. I have seen the elderly women and men on the streets and wonder why, why are they here? Shouldn’t you have a cozy bed when in your in 60s and 70s? Whose grandmother is out there with her feet wrapped in bandages to cover the sores from her toes and throughout her swollen ankles. The family, children, mom and dad and auntie, too, sitting on a flattened cardboard gives us thanks for the bottles of water and snacks we pass out. What we really are passing out, whether we’re walking down the sidewalks making ‘home deliveries,’ or within the coffee room is love. We are all connected to each other in this world, we are all here to learn and to pass out love.