Recent cutbacks in Institute for Human Services Waikiki outreach efforts have led to complaints that homelessness is growing again in the state’s top tourism district, but Hawaii visitor industry officials vow to shore up the program, which would have closed next month without a cash infusion.
The visitor industry-supported outreach program has earned many accolades since it began operations in November 2014. But it ran into trouble this spring when the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association decided to move the program’s major fundraiser, the Hawaii for Hawaii benefit concert, to Oct. 22 from May. The concert’s new timing at the end of the nonprofit’s fiscal year prompted IHS in March to reduce its outreach and shuttle services from four times weekly to twice weekly.
The Institute for Human Services provided intensive Waikiki outreach four days a week from November 2014 to March, and two days a week through June. The nonprofit produced the following results:
Homeless individuals served
Homeless individuals moved off Waikiki streets
Homeless individuals moved into shelter
Homeless individuals moved into housing
Rides to shelter facilities
Out-of-towners who went home through an airline relocation program, which paid for part of their tickets
Source: IHS 18-month progress report
“We scaled back because we knew that we wouldn’t have sufficient funding to continue at the level that we had been going before,” said Connie Mitchell, IHS executive director. “We approached the visitor industry back in March, and we’ve been working on a solution for a few months. We’re really excited about being able to continue in Waikiki.”
Mufi Hannemann, HLTA president and chief executive, said the Hawaii Hotel Industry Foundation, which controls the industry group’s charitable funds, called an emergency meeting Friday to address the IHS shortfall.
Hannemann said the foundation will guarantee that IHS won’t run out of money to do what it needs to do. The board also agreed to split the proceeds from its October concert with IHS and two other, unnamed entities. That move could reduce IHS funding, but Hannemann said the board will work with IHS’ board to create a sustainable business model that isn’t as dependent on HLTA funding.
Mitchell said the program cost $1.3 million in its first 19 months, with about $561,000 coming from HLTA and other visitor industry sources and $805,000 coming from IHS’ own budget and fundraising efforts. Mitchell said IHS’ program has served 607 of Waikiki’s homeless residents, helping nearly 200 out-of-towners pay for tickets home and moving hundreds of others into shelters and permanent housing.
“We don’t want them to stop the work that they are doing in Waikiki. No one wants the problems that we had to come back,” Hannemann said.
Many in the visitor industry and the community have credited IHS’ Waikiki outreach with reducing homelessness in the district, which two years ago was at crisis level. But they say homelessness, especially at the district’s beaches, has been resurfacing since IHS cut back.
“We’ve seen a new wave of homeless on the beaches in the last three to four months,” said Barry Wallace, executive vice president of hospitality services for Outrigger Enterprises Group.
Just after dawn on a recent Friday, 25 homeless campers lined Waikiki’s shoreline. Some had empty bottles and bags of recyclables tucked around them. One displayed a sign asking passers-by for money. Most were using hotel towels as blankets. Didi Robello, head of Aloha Beach Services, an ocean-sports hub on the grounds of the Moana Surfrider Hotel, said some have turned the beaches into their own personal outdoor toilets.
“I’m pouring bleach every day,” Robello said.
Lifeguards have had similar concerns for several months, said City Emergency Services Department Director Mark Rigg. “People are sleeping in their towers, and they are pooping and peeing,” he said.
Mayor’s tour of area
Prompted by recent complaints, Mayor Kirk Caldwell took an early-morning tour of the district Thursday, along with Rigg and city Director of Facility Maintenance Ross Sasamura. The trio was accompanied by a team of Honolulu police officers.
Proponents of park closure and public-nuisance laws say enforcement has decreased the number of homeless individuals living on Waikiki’s public sidewalks and using the neighborhood as a toilet. But critics say the stepped-up enforcement has moved some of these campers to the beaches, which are harder to control.
Waikiki beaches, from Fort DeRussy to Kapahulu Avenue, are closed to the public from 2 to 5 a.m.
Kapiolani Park, including Kaimana Beach, is closed to the public from midnight to 5 a.m. Outside of these hours, police can’t move homeless sleepers, who have the same rights as sunbathers.
“When developing the sit-lie laws, we did discuss the fact that the beach park would be a loophole, but it obviously wasn’t a workable idea to ban people from lying on the beach during the day,” said city spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke.
That scenario played out Thursday in front of Caldwell. Just before dawn police chased a homeless man from under a Waikiki lifeguard tower in a closed beach park. The man walked off with his citation, but when Kuhio Beach reopened at 5 a.m., he returned — this time with a friend. “By 5:01 a.m. they are already back again. It happens every day, over and over again,” said Officer Rance Okano.
Honolulu police Capt. Leland Cadoy, who is assigned to Waikiki, said the incident illustrates why homelessness requires a collaborative response. “Outreach workers can continue where we leave off,” Cadoy said. “We have to work together. It takes a constant effort.”
The day of Caldwell’s visit, police cited 13 people for park closure violations. In the past two years, Waikiki officers have issued 390 warnings and 3,641 citations and made 260 arrests for park closure violations.
Police also have enforced Waikiki’s public-nuisance laws. Since September 2014 they have issued five warnings and 91 citations and made 17 arrests for public urination or defecation in Waikiki.
During the same period, there were 2,378 warnings, 458 citations and 12 arrests for violating the sit-lie law. Last week alone, police issued 18 warnings and three sit-lie citations in Waikiki, and two citations for public urination and defecation.
Ralph “Buddy” McCarroll, who has been staying at IHS’ Sumner Shelter for about a week, said police enforcement and penalties never deterred him from breaking rules or made him want to seek shelter. “The rules didn’t work with me. Police try to scare you, but I welcome three hots and a cot,” said McCarroll, who has spent more than a decade of his life incarcerated.
McCarroll said Justin Phillips, who heads IHS’ Waikiki outreach, visited him for almost two years before he made the decision to seek shelter. “Having more Justins would help. It’s very important that he’s out there every day. He’s helpful. He’s got the connections. He can find housing,” he said.
Caldwell wants the visitor industry to continue supporting outreach programs. In return he’s pledging further resources. He said the city plans to install LED lighting to make Waikiki pavilions less appealing to rule-breakers. He said the city will also put closure signs and barriers around the most problematic lifeguard towers.
The mayor added that he will ask the Judiciary to impose tougher penalties for extreme rule violators. Honolulu police told him that they’ve arrested people with as many as 200 park closure tickets, only to see judges release them for time served. McCarroll said he was jailed for only two days after police issued him 18 tickets for public intoxication and one for smoking at the bus stop.
“We can’t waste our resources repeatedly doing the same thing and getting the same unacceptable result,” Caldwell said.
Police also told the mayor they need assistance responding to the medical needs of homeless people they arrest. “About 75 percent have to go to the ER. It’s a two- to three-hour process, and we have to stay with them,” said HPD Officer Ross Borges. “If we make two to three arrests, we’re in Straub all night.”
Caldwell said he’s evaluating whether security teams cross-trained in social services could augment the work of police officers in places like Waikiki, Iwilei, Kakaako and Chinatown. Discussions about this idea and others will continue next week when he meets with George D. Szigeti, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the agency’s leadership team and industry stakeholders.
“Homelessness is an ongoing issue that needs to remain a collective focus. It’s the No. 1 complaint the HTA receives from visitors about their vacation experience,” Szigeti said. “It’s clear they feel we cannot become complacent in the matter and must continue to support the programs that help those who need it most.”