|Retired tour buses shelter Hawaii’s homeless|
Utu Langi converts old tourist buses into mobile shelters
for the homeless on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu. UMNS photos by Kim
A UMNS Report
By Lilla Marigza*
Dec. 17, 2008
Utu Langi has made a name for himself as an innovative advocate for the homeless on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
The buses are part of a ministry aided by Honolulu First United Methodist Church.
Several times a week, Langi and volunteers distribute meals to
homeless men, women and children living in public parks in and around
The homeless are drawn to the beach parks for the same reasons that
tourists are: clean restrooms, sinks and showers, and spaces to camp
under the trees. However, public bathrooms are no place for families to
A few years ago on a rainy day, Langi ducked into one of these
restrooms and found a homeless family with small children taking
shelter. The sad discovery stayed with Langi as he wondered what to do.
"I thought to myself, 'What would be a cheap way to get people just
very basic shelter?' All of a sudden, a big tour bus drove by us, and I
said, 'I wonder what bus companies do with their old buses.'"
Part of the scenery
In Hawaii, brightly painted buses are a frequent sight as they carry
guests to see Pearl Harbor, the Dole Plantation or other popular tourist
attractions in Oahu.
Langi convinced one of the largest tour companies, Roberts Hawaii, to
donate a few of its old buses for conversion into mobile homeless
shelters. Rows of seats are removed, and bunks are built out of plywood.
Each bus will sleep eight people.
Eight plywood bunks replace bus seats.
Working through the permit process with city and state officials took
years of negotiating. Finally, in September, three buses were put into
service as shelters—two parked nightly in the parking lot of a partner
church in Honolulu and a third was used briefly by the Red Cross as a
temporary shelter following recent flooding on the island.
The converted buses are just the latest addition to a long-term plan
to provide shelter for Honolulu’s homeless. In 1996, Langi founded H-5,
which stands for Hawaii Helping the Hungry Have Hope.
Among the services offered by H-5 are a food pantry and a special
Sunday meditation service at Honolulu First United Methodist Church,
where Langi attends. A feeding ministry prepares and delivers 3,000
meals a week to places where the homeless gather.
Responding to God's grace
Langi’s determination to help the homeless comes from an unlikely
place. As a young man in the 1980s, he ran with a bad crowd and began
selling drugs. He was homeless for much of his teen life, and his first
stint behind bars was at age 13. Eventually, Langi was sentenced to
spend 45 years in prison, but God had another plan.
"Through the mercy of the Lord and the courts, I am here today,"
Langi says. "The only way I can repay for all the love that was given to
me is to, I guess, love somebody else."
Langi vowed to stay out of trouble but struggled to find honest work.
"I didn’t know what else to do. No one in the pharmaceutical market was
hiring ex-drug dealers," Langi jokes.
He fell back on his skills as a carpenter. Then, while driving home
from a construction job late one chilly evening, he saw a homeless man
sleeping on a bench at the bus stop.
"I had a blanket in the back of my truck to cover my tools with, and
so I was wondering, 'Should I do the Jesus thing, or should I just go
home because I was tired?'" he recalls. "I came back, tapped the guy on
his feet, put the blanket on him and asked the most dumbest question,
'Are you cold?' And that’s how my whole life was changed."
Langi turned to fellow members of Honolulu First United Methodist
Church. His first plea was for more blankets. Soon, church members also
began delivering hot soup to the homeless, and H-5 was born. Since then,
Langi has dedicated his life to serving the homeless every day.
Langi encourages others to rethink the problem of homelessness in their own communities.
"We need to reach out to them. We need to stop calling them homeless
and bums. That is our way of distancing ourselves from them," he says.
"These are somebody’s sons or someone’s daughter. We need to step up to
the plate and serve."
*Marigza is a freelance producer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Board of Church and Society