My Perspective: Homeless for a Night in Honolulu

How did you sleep last Friday night? Was your air conditioning too cold? Did your neighbor wake you up too early mowing his lawn?

On any given night in Hawaii nearly 8,000 people sleep on the streets without any of the comforts we take for granted. On Friday, Sept. 16, five ‘Ohana Health Plan employees joined community and business leaders for a #CEOSleepout organized by The Salvation Army Hawaiian & Pacific Islands. More than 30 people slept on cardboard boxes at the State Capitol Rotunda in Honolulu to draw attention to homelessness, interact with this vulnerable population, discuss opportunities for collaboration to address this issue, and to raise funds to help The Salvation Army in its mission to support those in need of food, shelter and opportunity.

Providing health care to people who are chronically homeless can be challenging, but at ‘Ohana, we believe it is our responsibility to assist our homeless members in removing barriers that prevent them from accessing health care, and to help connect them with needed social services. Our team volunteered for this event to experience what it feels like to be homeless and to learn how we can do more to help.

“We all agreed that homelessness is a complex issue requiring the collective efforts of the entire community to solve.”

The Sleep Out
Our team arrived at the Capitol at 6 p.m., uncertain of what to expect. We gathered in the rain for instructions on where we would sleep (by the building doors on a single cardboard box); where we would use the bathroom (nearby Port-a-Potties); and what to do in case of an emergency (security was nearby). It was eye-opening to realize that even these few amenities were not what many homeless people are able to rely on regularly.

My bed for the night: A cardboard box and a light blanket.

After our initial meeting, we got to work on an assembly line making dozens of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and headed to the Chinatown area of Honolulu to feed the hungry. We were led by Revolution Hawaii, a group of young people ages 18-29 who volunteer with The Salvation Army for a year to help the underserved. We delivered the sandwiches, asked questions and listened to their stories.

The CEOSleepout team makes peanut better and jelly sandwiches to serve to the hungry.

When we returned to the Capitol, we shared our experiences. I found it to be such a humbling and fulfilling event. Prior to that evening, my interactions with homeless people were superficial at best and more often than not, could have been considered outright avoidance. That evening I was given the opportunity to meet and interact with people whose varied circumstances resulted in them being homeless. We all agreed that homelessness is a complex issue requiring the collective efforts of the entire community to solve.

A New Perspective
That night I slept only a few hours. Sirens rang throughout the night, my neighbors rustling around trying to get comfortable woke me, and I was tired and unsettled. In the morning, I woke knowing how fortunate I was to be headed home to shower, eat a full breakfast, and watch college football. I hope I will never fully know what it is like to be homeless. But after my experience, I am committed to do more to make a difference.

About The Salvation Army Hawaiian & Pacific Islands
The Salvation Army Hawaiian & Pacific Islands served more than 121,000 people last year through various services such as basic needs assistance, homeless outreach, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, youth and senior services, and more. Click here to learn about their mission and how you can help.


Scott Sivik is market vice president of ‘Ohana Health Plan, a WellCare Health Plans company. 

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