Photo: Emily Metcalf

EDITOR’S NOTE: Honolulu City Councilman Romy Cachola gave a final ‘Message of Aloha’ on March 21, 2012, at the Honolulu City Council Meeting. He will be leaving the city council on December 31 because of term limits and will run for the House of Representatives, District 3o, this November. Here are his remarks.

Photo: Emily Metcalf

BY ROMY CACHOLA – Good morning Mr. Chair, esteemed colleagues and honored guests. I had invited someone to deliver the Message of Aloha. However, I got a call last Friday that that person is unable to be here. So instead, I decided to give the Message of Aloha, knowing that this may be my final opportunity to do so because of term limits.

My message to you all today is that IN LIFE, NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE, IF YOU WORK HARD FOR IT. On my way back from the NACO Conference the other week, I read a heart-warming story in Readers Digest about a homeless girl from New York City named Liz Murray. At the age of 16, she was living on the streets of Manhattan, begging for spare change. She wore tattered clothes and slept in hallways. Her drug addicted mother had died of AIDS, while her estranged father was living in a shelter.

Thanks to a high school called the Humanities Preparatory Academy—which accepted her as a student—and a haven for homeless teens called the Door, Liz was provided with counseling, medical care and food.

Liz graduated from high school and attended Harvard University, where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in psychology. Her next goal is to earn a doctorate in Clinical Psychology and counsel people from all walks of life.

For Liz, the turning point in life came when kind-hearted strangers gave her a place to stay, clothes and a warm meal. She has gone from being homeless to owning an apartment in Manhattan. Liz’s story entitled “From Homelessness to Harvard” is nothing short of remarkable and proof positive that IN LIFE, NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE, IF YOU WORK HARD FOR IT.

After reading Liz’s story, I began to think about how we in Honolulu treat our homeless. We’ve passed bills to keep the homeless out of our parks, to confiscate their personal belongings and to move them from place to place.

The way I see it, there are basically two types of homeless on our streets—the special needs homeless and the working homeless. The special needs homeless are those who require medical attention and need to be placed in an institution, while the working homeless are those who may have lost their jobs or have suffered a setback in life that forced them out into the street. As much as possible, these two categories of homeless should be separated and not placed together at the same shelter.

For the working homeless, can we not provide them with a safe place to stay? Perhaps in a section of a park until they are able to get back on their feet. Parks are, of course, for everyone’s use. But we should consider reserving a section of a park for working homeless to sleep during the evening hours. In the morning, they would be required to fold away their tents and place their belongings in a designated area for safekeeping. These designated areas should be monitored.

If we can pay City workers to forcibly remove homeless from parks and sidewalks, confiscate their personal belongings and power-wash these areas, surely we can pay for a more humane solution like the one I have proposed.

Liz’s story also reminds me of the trials that my family and I went through as newly-arrived immigrants from the Philippines. Many of you already know the story of how my wife, my 2-year-old daughter and I arrived in Hawaii with about $500 in our pockets. We took on odd jobs to make ends meet and struggled during our humble beginnings. But through hard work and prayer, we were able to make it. And we have kept on working hard and praying ever since.

Let me again share several valuable lessons that I have learned:

  • One: Always do your best, be proud of who you are and don’t be afraid to take chances.
  • Two: Remember those who helped you along the way.
  • Three: Pray rather than lose hope.
  • Four:  When you make it in life, remember to give back to the community.

To her credit, Liz is now working at the same shelter that gave her a chance at life. She also joined the Door’s board of directors and helped them open a high school for homeless teens.

The Cacholas too have done our part to give back. We participate in yearly medical missions to the Philippines and other countries. Last year, we did three such medical missions, including to Mindanao where heavy floods killed many people. In addition, we are in the 29th consecutive year of organizing the Kalihi Community Health Fair which provides free medical tests and screenings for everyone, including the poor, needy, immigrants and the homeless.

When I read stories like Liz Murray, I am again reminded that IN LIFE, NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE, IF YOU WORK HARD FOR IT. We are blessed to live in America, the land of opportunity…the land of the free…. and the home of the brave.

In closing, let us be thankful for the blessings in life that we have been given. Let’s also remember to extend compassion to those who may not be as fortunate. The homeless are human beings like us who deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.

To all of you, I’d like to say God bless Hawaii and God bless America! And to those who don’t believe in any God: “Hello and have a nice day.”

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