The perception is that crime is out of control and rampant in Waikiki. The community wants to make Waikiki unwelcome and uncomfortable for homeless people.
Crime is not out of control, according to Susan Ballard, Chief of the Honolulu Police Department. “Waikiki is a safe location for visitors and residents,” she states.
However, the Police Chief, together with Jerry Dolak, President of the Hawaii Hotel Visitors Industry Security Association, wants to make sure Waikiki is an unwelcoming and uncomfortable place for the homeless to hang out.
Today, the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association Security Conference at the Hawaii Prince Hotel in Honolulu brought security experts and leaders of the Waikiki hotel business together.
“Our competitive edge is safety and security. One incident can change this,” said Mufi Hannemann, Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association President & CEO.
The Honolulu Police Department is training officers in communication, conflict resolution, and de-escalation. Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) of Honolulu Police Department (HPD) officers is to identify individuals in crisis or living with mental disabilities, like many within the homeless community.
HPD emphasizes building relationships with the community and businesses. It encourages officers to get out of their cars and talk to the community and businesses to facilitate open communication and relationships – this can reduce crimes.
There are groups, not gangs, in Waikiki. There is no organized crime, however, there are delinquent juvenile groups from other parts of Oahu.
Most of the discussion this morning was about the homeless problem. Lack of mental health care, the attractiveness to receive handouts that the State of Hawaii doesn’t have but most homeless people on the island of Oahu love is in Waikiki. Tourists do not want to see them, but many feel sorry; retailers see them as pests, distracting from their businesses.
Bob Finley, Chair of the Waikiki Neighborhood Board, feels the hotels are trespassing “them” and now “they” are on our doorstep at residential condominium buildings.
Police officers explained how a homeless person could effectively have trespassed, so that HPD could arrest such a violator. A member of the audience suggested when the courts trespass any homeless convicted of such a crime, that they no longer be allowed in Waikiki altogether. This would slowly clean and isolate the 2-mile long tourist center from those that have no home.
Justin Philipps, the Homeless Outreach Manager of the Institute for Human Services, explained the success of a program to provide transportation for homeless people to leave the state. He explained the homeless person has to pay half of the airline ticket, and the state provides the other half.
Jessica Lani Rich, President of the Visitor Aloha Society, documented 2 cases where homeless with mental conditions attack tourists. In one case, a homeless person almost killed a visitor who came to attend a wedding but instead ended up in a hospital and is now disabled for the rest of her life.
Just this morning close to the Sheraton and Royal Hawaiian Hotel a homeless man who was sleeping in an area on Royal Hawaiian Avenue at about 1:35 am pulled a three-inch pocket knife and threatened to kill a security guard who woke him up.
“Tourism is everyone’s business in this State, even if you don’t live in Waikiki or work directly in this business,” said Juergen Steinmetz, a long-time resident of Hawaii and CEO of the eTN Corporation . “Chasing homeless people from one street to another, not forcing seriously mentally ill people to get treatment is putting our economy and our visitors at risk.
“The State has to find the money needed to help a homeless person and provide a chance to enter society. Tourism stakeholders must push legislators to provide the money and methods to help resolve this issue once and for all. The tourist industry should use its power and profits to push the state to act effectively. Fair taxation needs to be in place to have the means to resolve homelessness and pay for quality mental health in Hawaii. The State together with the tourism industry have to take ownership of the problem, and it cannot be only well-meaning charities, churches, and other nonprofit organizations. Investing in resolving the homeless problem means investing in our future and into a healthy travel and tourism industry.”