Homeless Father Found By A Determined Daughter

For the longest time something was just not right in Diana Kim’s life. Throughout her teens and her twenties, something seemingly beyond her control was missing or lost and she didn’t have the capacity to change it, so she thought. But she did have the willpower and determination and that is why a daughter managed to find her estranged father who, unbeknownst to her, was homeless and living on the street.

Now in her 30s, Diana Kim is an O'ahu-based photographer whose love of her home, and her craft, were born from her family. "I grew up on the island of Maui and consider the islands to be home," said Kim. "My father owned a photography studio at one time, so my earliest introduction to photography was through him."

But over time, Kim's parents separated. Her father, she says, became "absent."

Kim spent years bouncing between relatives' homes including a few years living in parks, cars, and with friends. "I always thought of it as 'roughing it,' so it didn't really bother me," she recalled. "My survival instincts were always strong."

In 2003, as a student, Kim began a photo essay about the homeless communities around her. For years thereafter, she expanded on the project and continued her advocacy for homelessness. During this time, Diana Kim received word that her father's mental health had deteriorated, that he refused to take his medication. Uncertain as to his whereabouts, Kim and her family were unable to offer assistance.

While shooting her project on the streets of Honolulu in 2012, Kim discovered her father among the homeless people that she was documenting. He had lost considerable weight and didn't recognize her. She calls the moment, "devastating."

"A woman came by and told me to 'not bother,' because he stood there all day. I wanted to scream at her for not caring, for being so cruel, and not considering that he was my father. But then I realized that anger wouldn't do anything to change the circumstances we were in. I turned towards her and said, 'I have to try.'"

Over the next few years, struggling to reconnect and breakthrough to him, Kim turned her camera on the man she thought she had lost.

Diana Kim says, "Photographing my own father actually began as a mechanism of protecting myself at first. I would raise my camera phone in front of me almost as if that barrier would help keep me together. It hurt to see him like this. Some days I would literally just stand there and stare downwards because I couldn't get myself to see him in the condition he was in. My own flesh and blood, but still such a stranger to me."

"He suffered from severe schizophrenia and, left untreated, he was not always responsive,” Kim said. “There were many instances when it appeared as if he was arguing with someone, but nobody was there. I can't count the number of times I sat next to my father on the street, wondering how his future would look. He would refuse to get treatment, take any medications, eat, bathe, or wear new clothes. I wasn't sure if he would get better."

Kim feared that her father would "die on the street.”

Of all things, a heart attack saved her father’s life. “Someone cared enough to call the police. He was taken to a hospital and was then placed on medications. He eventually stabilized and his mental health conditions were addressed. Having the heart attack truly saved his life. It gave him the opportunity to get back on a treatment plan. And he has been on it ever since."

"Every day is a gift. Some days are more challenging than others, but seeing my father in the flesh is a constant reminder of the strength of the human spirit and how precious life is. He is really proud of the fact that he has overcome such incredible adversity.”


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