Dealing with homelessness in Waikiki

There are more homeless in Waikiki than ever before, and it’s presenting a problem for both government and businesses that count on return visitors to keep the tourism engine humming.

Concessionaires and others say the homeless make Waikiki less than a welcoming experience.

“Homelessness is a really tough problem,” said Honolulu City Council member Stanley Chang. “We are now getting more complaints about homelessness than all other issues combined at this point.”

In spite of a busy lunch hour at the Grass Shack food kiosk and a beach full of visitors, Chang said business in Waikiki is worse than it was during the economic recession in 2009.

In a commentary published in the Sunday Star-Advertiser, Mayor Kirk Caldwell proposed several initiatives that could help with the homeless problem, among them, keeping beach restrooms open 24 hours a day.

Chang says that’s a good first step. “In fact, we are launching a public-private partnership so that not only is the city providing funding in keeping the restrooms open 24 hours, but the businesses are also going to be donating the soap, the dispensers, and power washing and cleaning.”

“It’s a first step in addressing this homeless issue and making sure that not only do our homeless people have a place to freshen up but also it alleviates a lot of other problems,” said Jessica Lani Rich of the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii.

The homeless situation may not be as obvious in the daytime, but it becomes more evident at night.

“The homeless are just laying in the sidewalk, everywhere,” Waikiki resident Amy Vasquez said, “and you have a lot of people visiting from all around the world and it doesn’t make our community look very nice at all.”

When asked if the homeless situation keep tourists from returning, a visiting Frank Stenz said “I haven’t seen many volatile homeless, but it would be a consideration. I guess (you would) if you have a bad experience.”>

“A lot of visitors do say they see more homeless in Waikiki than before,” said Rich, “and we don’t want this to turn away a lot of visitors because obviously we want them to return to Waikiki.”

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