In a series of shocking displays that can be described as nothing short of bizarre, Democratic State Representative Tom Brower has recently undertaken an aggressive personal crusade against the epidemic of homelessness that has come to ravage his home state of Hawaii. The disgruntled public official has taken to patrolling his district of Waikiki-Ala Moana, armed with a sledgehammer, which he uses to forcefully destroy shopping carts that have been left behind by members of the local homeless population. Brower was apparently driven to take matters into his own hands amid the region’s escalating epidemic of homelessness, attempting to clean up one of the neighborhood’s “biggest eyesores” (as he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser): the remnants of vagabonds’ castaway luggage carriers. While one can only surmise as to how effective the act of lashing out against an inanimate symbol of desolate poverty could be, the practice of attacking the symptoms of destitution–rather than the root cause–seems to have caught on among politicians from various other cities across the United States.
Brower (nicknamed the “Evil Miley Cyrus“) also admits to frequently waking up any sleeping vagrants that he finds lounging about throughout the city, bellowing orders such as, “Get your ass moving!” in an attempt to clear them off the streets. Ironically, however, Brower insists that he never disturbs sleeping have-nots during nighttime hours, out of respect for their circumstances. And there is quite a set of circumstances to be taken into consideration on Oahu, indeed: between 2005-2007, the homeless population of the island increased by a staggering 28.6% . Homelessness is certainly becoming an urgent problem in Hawaii, and Brower’s measures are not the only actions that have been taken by government officials in an attempt to counteract the epidemic.
Another doomed attempt to combat the rapid increase in Hawaiian homelessness is scheduled to debut itself during Hawaii’s fiscal year of 2014. Entitled the “Return to Home” program, this new government initiative will be providing one-way airline tickets to select destitute individuals, flying them back to the United States mainland in the hopes of reducing the island state’s population of more than 17,000 homeless people. Critics say that the program could create the illusion to those seeking to take advantage of it that there will always be a guaranteed flight back to the continental U.S. waiting for them in the event that it becomes necessary to leave the island, but supporters of this new provision argue otherwise. According to the project’s enthusiasts, only as many as 100 people per year will be eligible to participate in it, limiting the potential for its services to be taken advantage of. 
Similar methods of dealing with socio-economic challenges such as these have been observed recently in other American cities, as well. In New York City, the mayoral administration of Michael Bloomberg has on occasion utilized a program which is not unlike Hawaii’s upcoming “Return to Home” program in order to combat its own epidemic of homelessness. From 2007-2009, the city paid for the airline flights of 550 struggling families with the intention of aiding them in making their pilgrimage elsewhere, all in the hopes that they might settle down and live more comfortably in some other part of the world. New York City’s Department of Homeless Services is in charge of coordinating these assisted excursions, whose annual expenses consume roughly $500,000 of the city’s yearly budget. Supporters of the initiative extoll that the program is far more affordable than the alternative option, which is to provide housing for these families through the city’s system of homeless shelters at an annual cost of approximately $36,000 per family. Apparently, it is simply cheaper for the city to send such disparate people elsewhere and forget about them entirely, showcasing yet another depiction of the government’s recent inclination to address merely the symptoms of debilitating poverty (in this case with the intention of saving city money), rather than remedying its underlying causes. 
In Philadelphia, the so-called “City of Brotherly Love,” neither shopping carts, nor homeless individuals themselves have become the focus of such eradication efforts by local officials. Instead, the city’s own destitution crisis has prompted an attempt at a different sort of extrication, altogether. In March of 2012, the city’s mayor, Michael Nutter, announced that a ban on the feeding of homeless people would soon go into effect at any of the city’s outdoor locations that generally draws a high level of pedestrian traffic. Unconvincingly citing sanitation issues and a concern for the individual dignity of those receiving the food donations as being the primary motivation for passing the ban, Nutter declared:
“Providing to those who are hungry must not be about opening the car trunk, handing out a bunch of sandwiches, and then driving off into the dark and rainy night.” 
He went on to insist that every individual deserves the right to eat a proper meal in a comfortable, indoor setting, a belief which he proceeded to reiterate in numerous interviews:
“My motivation is not to exclude anyone. I want a hungry person in need to know they can go to a clean, dry place.” 
“This is about an activity on city park land that the mayor thinks is better suited elsewhere. We think it’s a much more dignified place to be in an indoor sit-down restaurant…The overarching policy goal of the mayor is based on a belief that hungry people deserve something more than getting a ham sandwich out on the side of the street.” 
At no point did Nutter or his representatives address the point that few individuals, if any, would rather starve on the street than eat a much-needed meal in an outdoor environment. Nor did they offer to provide an indoor dining environment for the homeless, despite being so seemingly passionate about this detail. This is comparable to the fact that at no point did Rep. Tom Brower address the fact that lashing out against shopping carts (or any other artifact common among the poor) would have absolutely no impact on reducing Hawaiian poverty levels. Regardless of the empty gestures committed in either case, or by either of the two ultimately powerless political saps, the obvious truth of the matter remains unchangeable: homelessness doesn’t cease to exist simply because one of its many physical symptoms goes under attack from some desperate politician. No individual or group of individuals can reduce the level of destitution in society simply by destroying a vagabond’s shopping cart, or by forcing him to eat indoors, or by purchasing him a plane ticket to some other faraway place–doing so may at most conceal some of the more obvious aspects of the economic suffering of a society, if even that.
While the outwardly freakish wrath being wielded by Rep. Tom Brower against both inanimate objects and the sleeping impoverished alike is simultaneously alarming, comical, and ultimately pathetic, the underlying motivation behind such outbursts is actually a relatively common theme among politicians nowadays. Powerless to prevent the onward march of society towards escalating poverty and economic despair as the financial climate of the 21st century continues its downward spiral, desperate politicians like Brower, Bloomberg, and Nutter can only be expected to continue to do what is typical of elected officials in such times of social distress: lash out by passing laws, all of which are enforced with violence.
- N/A. “Hawaii lawmaker wages campaign against the homeless and their belongings with sledgehammer.” Russia Today. 19 Nov. 2013. http://rt.com/usa/hawaii-sledgehammer-homeless-possessions-986/
- Wing, Nick. “Hawaii ‘Return To Home’ Program Will Pay To Fly Homeless To The Mainland.” Huffington Post. 25 Jul. 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/25/hawaii-return-to-home-homeless_n_3653498.html
- Bosman, Julie. “City Aids Homeless With One-Way Tickets Home.” New York Times. 28 Jul. 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/29/nyregion/29oneway.html?_r=1&
- Dunn, Mike. Hunter, Walt. “City To Ban Street-Corner Feedings Of Homeless.” CBS Philadelphia. 14 Mar. 2012. http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2012/03/14/nutter-announces-ban-on-outdoor-feeding-of-homeless/
- Hill, Miriam. “End to feeding homeless in city parks?” Philly.com. 14 Mar. 2012. http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/heardinthehall/publicfeeding.html?c=r
- Pearce, Matt. “Homeless feeding bans: Well-meaning policy or war on the poor?” 11 Jun. 2012. http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jun/11/nation/la-na-nn-homeless-feeding-bans-20120611