A picture-perfect paradise is why many tourists visit Oahu, but when the sun goes down visitors are seeing the harsh reality of those who live on the streets and beaches of Waikiki.
Recently, tourism, city, and state officials walked Waikiki to see just how bad the situation is.
“Once the park closed the homeless shifted from the parks all through the corridor of Waikiki all the benches as well as through all the hotels,” Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association president and CEO George Szigeti said.
Szigeti said many hotels have increased security to deal with the homeless coming onto hotel property.
“The Hyatt has been inundated. The Marriott has been inundated. The Pacific Beach Hotel has been inundated. The Westin Moana-Surfrider,” Szigeti said.
Complaints range from homeless people taking a shower in hotel bathrooms, to them sleeping in hotel lobbies, and trespassing at private hotel functions.
“We’re finding them in using all the restrooms where the hotels are now having to lock up their restrooms. We’re finding them in banquet lines up on the third floor of the hotel. They find where the food is.”
Visitors are noticing the problem and speaking up.
“We know from letters to the editor by tourists. I know as the Mayor. I’ve gotten letters from tourists complaining and I’ve written letters back apologizing,” Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said.
Visitors have also complained to police officers at the Waikiki substation.
“There’s no less than six to 15 per day of visitors coming into District 6 in Waikiki complaining that you have a homeless problem and we’re not coming back,” Szigeti said.
Szigeti says they’ve identified about 400 homeless people in Waikiki alone.
“I think it’s epidemic throughout Waikiki right now. Really it’s throughout the state. But really, it’s become Waikiki’s epidemic,” Szigeti said.
To fix the problem, tourism officials have been meeting monthly with the mayor to figure out a solution.
One idea is to build a homeless shelter in Waikiki.
“The Housing First program is unique in that it takes away the barriers of having to go through the substance abuse programs,” Szigeti said. “Allows them to bring, say they have a drug or an alcohol program, they can still come to the shelter.”
Visitors are glad the problem is being addressed.
“I think it does need to be addressed. Probably Waikiki is among the more tourist areas where people don’t want to be seeing it. They don’t want to reminded of it,” Canadian visitor Marilyn Pearson said.
“If I just come and visit and want to go to the beach, you know, it will deter me from going into certain areas with my kids. So it’s definitely a problem that needs to be taken care of,” Hilo resident Dean Au said.
“What I would like to see is start with Waikiki because that is the economic engine that pulls our trains,” Szigeti said. “If we don’t have the visitors coming in what’s the ripple effect what’s the domino effect of them not coming in.”
In addition to meeting with the mayor once a month, tourism officials have also formed a hotel coalition to help address the problem.
A city bill to enforce removing property left on sidewalks will go into effect July 1.