This class couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s difficult to reflect upon how this class has affected me without discussing where I was, sociologically-speaking.


It was only recently that I began to equate homelessness with the inability of said individual to pay housing bills. The realization crept in once it hit local vicinity. Whenever I came home from college, Honolulu seemed to change. As summers and Christmases passed, I realized that the urban landscape of Honolulu was changing: the homeless population noticeably grew; street corners and public park facilities were now ever full of homeless people and their grocery carts of stray-away luggage. Around the same time, real estate prices were skyrocketing at ridiculous rates. I could tell that the prices were accelerating at unforeseen rates not because I’m some kind of real estate expert – no siree! I could tell it was accelerating because two of my mom’s friends – both homeowners within the last ten years – could not stop boasting about how great the value of their property is now. Going by the proclamations of the one with Waikiki estate, you would’ve assumed she had just won the jackpot.


A few years ago, I would’ve considered the increase of homelessness and the real estate boom as two isolated incidents. But now, things are starting to make sense.

I’d like to think of the human mind as a tabula rasa – our knowledge of the world is gradually built from layers upon layers of experience. Fragmented collages of memories seemed to connect with each other. In a Communications class I took last fall, urban planner Robert Moses was the topic of discussion for a while (the class was on communication and technology). It was upon discussing Robert Moses that I began to realize the socio-economic impact people like Moses had upon the urban landscape, as I read about how Moses’ true-to-life vision of the New York metropolis as efficient square boxes eliminated blocks of affordable housing and left many stranded with few positive outcomes and options.

In this class, I remember, as early as the first seminar session, we began talking about urban renewal and its consequences and unflattering contributions to homelessness. One of the most striking things you ever mentioned in class, Tim, was the fact that there was a time, in fact, that housing was never perceived as a financial investment – it was just a place to call home. I was awestruck. As such a young, ignorant member of society, I remained solely fixated in the contemporary era; I suppose it’s the grand departure from the usual boxed-in mentality that makes history so useful – it compels one to take a more critical stance at the patterns and trends of society.
History also makes one aware of institutionalized complacency. It was almost surreal to have read in one of the assigned articles about the fact that there was barely one homeless person in New York in the late ‘60s. Homelessness, I presumed, had been around since, well, for ever. But alas, the act of perceiving homelessness as something natural and inevitable is something Foucauldian in itself. The Establishment, which brainwashes the masses into believing it to be inevitable, benefits from such a mindset. The less questioning of authority, the better.


Not long ago, the New York Times reported on a museum exhibit paying tribute to Robert Moses’ work. Although the writer barely mentioned the underbelly side to Moses’ work in New York, the Times’ upper-middle class readership appeared up-in-arms. A handful of letters were printed, expressing the same uninspired sentiment: that Moses’ contributions were for the greater good of society, etc. and etc. It was infuriating but predictable at the same time. These people, after all, were the benefactors of Moses’ urban renewal; Moses gave their property a lot of monetary value and contributed to the beautiful towers and highways.

If there’s one thing I learned before I ever set foot in this class, it’s that America is too middle class and individualist for its own good. I learned this a long time ago. I learned this back at home, whenever my mom got out her EBT card at the cash register, and people near her would have this tendency to sneer at her – as if she was affirming their ideals of what a welfare queen is. Because Americans are individualists at heart, they have a tendency to believe that everything is resulted from self-will and not from greater forces. Those people sneering at my mom probably thought of her as lazy – a useless member of society.

But reveling in such a mindset can only limit one’s exposure to the real societal injustices. As someone like Beth Shulman would point out, income inequalities become justified – to the point where there exists no victim at all. A person stuck in a dead-end, low-paying job just has to, ultimately, suck it up. Afterall, s/he is a low-skilled worker; s/he should try to re-adjust his/her skills – you know, learn better ones, and thus, shall improve job prospects in the near future. But the reality, however, is not so simple. There is considerable income difference between a college educated person and a non-educated one. My parents always ingrained me and my sister with that train of thought because the workforce labor they experienced were far from the Horatio Alger territory; coming to America with children and barely a high school education in a Third World country, they have become stuck with these “low-skilled” jobs.