Portable toilets, public showers, better coordination between businesses and even a government-sanctioned tent city were among the ideas proposed by lawmakers Thursday to address concerns about a growing — and increasingly hard-core — homeless population in Iwilei.
The meeting at the CurrentAffairs event planning business on Pine Street brought together 34 neighbors, lawmakers, police and businesses big and small concerned about homeless people who are moving in as the city and state continue to crack down on nearby encampments.
Thursday’s gathering included City Council members Joey Manahan, who represents Iwilei, and Carol Fukunaga, whose district includes portions of nearby Liliha and Kalihi; state Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland (D, Downtown-Nuuanu-Liliha); Gary Nakata, director of the city Department of Community Services; Connie Mitchell, executive director of the Institute for Human Services; and a half-dozen Honolulu police officers.
It followed a February meeting of 14 Iwilei businesses at which no elected officials appeared.
“We’re here for our staff and employees, and we’re all getting quite nervous,” Philip Richardson, president of CurrentAffairs, told Thursday’s crowd. “We’ve got to get some action plan going.”
Richard Gray, who has lived in Iwilei for 19 years, dominated Thursday’s meeting with a litany of complaints, including vandalism and having to clean up human feces every day.
“They’ve set fires in my building, deliberately broken into bathrooms,” Gray said. “So I’ve had doo-doo water spilling on my carpets. Yesterday we repaired a door they ripped off the hinges.”
The real solution to the highest per capita rate of homelessness in the country relies on more affordable housing, Nakata said.
But short-term gains might be accomplished by teaming up with the Iwilei Business Association, Chun Oakland said.
Manahan continues to push for a so-called “hygiene center” in his district where homeless people can shower, use the bathroom, wash their clothes and get social service assistance for their problems, which could include mental illness and drug or alcohol abuse.
He also favors a tent city in his district, although Manahan prefers the term “temporary encampment.”
“The state can partner with the city to use the empty Liliha Civic Center lot to set up temporary encampments and portable toilets,” Manahan said, adding, “This space will give a little bit of breathing room until we can better manage the area.”
Although the Liliha Civic Center is expected to be part of the rail line, Manahan said portable toilets could be used for at least a year, maybe two.
Nakata said the city’s only hygiene center in Chinatown “works” and that bigger ones are being considered. The Chinatown hygiene center consists of separate men’s and women’s toilets and showers, and opened on North Pauahi Street in February 2015.
It now gets used by 60 to 70 people every day, Nakata said.
“They keep it clean,” he said. “They respect the space and each other.”
Homeless-related break-ins, vandalism and drug trafficking plague Iwilei, and residents and business owners complained Thursday that police do not respond fast enough, if at all.
“What you’ve got to know is we cannot be here right away,” said police Sgt. Mike Fujioka, who covers Iwilei. “We have to take priority cases first.”
Iwilei has already seen “a couple of murders” this year, and “one murder will take most of the officers to investigate that crime scene,” Fujioka said.
From the beginning of the year through May, there were 626 crimes committed within a half-mile radius of Alakawa Street, Cpl. Dennis Higa said.
Officers said the best thing residents can do to help with arrests and prosecution is to be good witnesses and willing to testify in court.
Higa said residents and businesses can work together by forming a “Neighborhood Business Security Watch, which gets members of the business community trained to describe a suspect and know when to get involved.”
Mitchell of the nearby IHS homeless shelters asked residents to help keep track of homeless people they encounter regularly, especially those who might suffer from mental illness.
IHS outreach workers likely already know who they are. But Mitchell instructed residents to “report those you see who are chronically mentally ill and fixtures in the community so that we can have a clear list of those people and reach out to them.”
After the meeting, Nakata told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, “Public input is key. These are the people being affected. They feel like government, in particular, is just not moving fast enough. It’s really come to a crisis point.“
But Karen Carlen, who has lived in the area for two years, said, “It’s past a crisis.
“This crisis was years ago,” she said. “I’m appalled. I’m upset.”