Children’s Discovery Center struggling as homeless troubles persist | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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Children’s Discovery Center struggling as homeless troubles persist

  • BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Loretta Yajima, chairwoman and chief executive of the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center, said visits have dropped from a high of 120,000 annually. In an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now on Monday, she presented photos documenting theft of electricity and litter around the center.

  • BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Loretta Yajima, Chair of the Board & CEO of The Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center, described the theft of electrical power and trash and other items scattered over the center’s grounds.

  • BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Teachers and students of the Preschool Playtime program visited the Tot Spot exhibit at the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center on Monday.

The chairwoman of the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center, located in the heart of the enduring Kakaako homeless encampment, suggested in January that the center close in the face of a 30 percent drop in revenue over the past two years, according to an email that Loretta Yajima sent to her state landlord and some lawmakers last month.

Even though social service outreach and city sweeps have knocked the Kakaako homeless population down from more than 300 in the summer of 2015 to roughly 30 to 50 now on any given night, Yajima suggested that attendance and revenue continue to be a problem for the Children’s Discovery Center, which moved from Dole Cannery to its current site at an abandoned city incinerator in December 1998.

In her email to the Hawaii Community Development Authority and city and state lawmakers who represent the area, Yajima began: “Everyone thinks the problem has gotten better for us because they do not see 300-plus tents surrounding our building anymore; however, the urine and feces (both human and animal) still persist on our property. … As you know, we stay away from making any statements to the media because when the press comes out with a story we suffer loss of the public’s confidence, and during the past two years we suffered a good 30 percent loss in income. In addition, we also get heavily criticized for not being compassionate by those organizations and agencies who are trying to help the homeless with housing. On the other hand, media coverage seems to be the ONLY thing that motivates action. I feel that is sad because it does not tell the whole story.”

Yajima’s email outlined a long list of problems that included complaints about trash, mosquitoes and vandalism to the center’s electrical and water supplies.

She wrote that she suggested to her board of directors in January that they close the center — a proposal she said the board unanimously rejected.

Following her email to the HCDA — which charges the nonprofit Discovery Center $1 a year to lease the land — Yajima spoke to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now in a joint interview on Monday.

At one point, the center saw 120,000 visits annually, Yajima said. But “in the past four or five years, we’ve seen our numbers dwindle. It’s been a little difficult.” She declined to provide more recent attendance figures.

“I think people are afraid,” she said. “They’re afraid to park in the lots because they have their cars broken into. With some of the news stories that have come out about people getting beat up in the area, I can’t really blame people.”

Asked repeatedly if children and their families are safe coming to the center, Yajima finally said she could give an “unqualified” answer: “You’re not going to find a place that’s as safe as the Children’s Discovery Center is.”

Later, in a follow-up email to the Star-Advertiser, Yajima wrote: “Some parents have said that their kids beg them to come to the Discovery Center, but when they drive through the area they do not feel safe and will not come back until the state does something to clean up the park. Many others have told us that when they decided to park in the public lots and come into the center anyway, that the experiences they had, once inside, made any doubts about coming to the center disappear. They have all expressed appreciation for what we do and sympathize with our situation. … Is the Children’s Discovery Center safe? Absolutely. Do we have a problem in the area? No question about it.”

Yajima repeatedly said she hoped her rare interview with the Star-Advertiser and HNN would result in “balanced” stories of the “hope and promise” of the center.

Yajima noted that this week the center is hosting the Asia Pacific Children’s Museum Conference, with most of the events at the Hawai‘i Convention Center. A reception Wednesday night at the Children’s Discovery Center was expected to attract about 100 conference attendees.

Yajima sent an earlier email about Kakaako’s homeless population to lawmakers and others on June 24, 2015. Less than a week later, on June 30, state Rep. Tom Brower (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana-Kaka­ako) returned to the encampment to photograph it. Brower was chased to the front steps of the Children’s Discovery Center, where he was beaten by a mob, leaving him with cuts and bruises.

“Children stood on the front porch with their parents watching him get beat up,” Yajima told the Star-Advertiser and HNN this week.

She acknowledged spending “thousands of dollars” to repair vandalism to the center, including profanity on the center’s banners. Asked to specify the damage and cost, Yajima said, “I’m not divulging that.”

Yajima did say that she has received physical threats, but demurred when asked by HNN if she feels she is being retaliated against. “I’d prefer not to answer that question, either,” she said. “It’s a very conflicting situation.”

Yajima said she did not mean for any of her emails to lawmakers and the HCDA to become public. “It was a moment of weakness when I wrote the letter to HCDA,” she said. “I was a little bit naive thinking I was sending a personal letter. … I find myself in this uncomfortable predicament talking about it. … I didn’t want people, the families … to be afraid to come to Kakaako.”

HCDA spokesman Garrett Kamemoto said the agency continues to work with the Children’s Discovery Center and “with the state homeless coordinator, social service agencies and also sheriff’s deputies and HPD to address various problems as much as we can.”

David Striph, who serves on the center’s board of directors, offered an unqualified endorsement of its safety for parents and children.

“Go down there, absolutely,” Striph said. “I would take my kids down there. It’s a very unique experience for Honolulu.”

Striph, who is executive vice president-Hawaii of the Howard Hughes Corp., serves on seven boards of directors but said his term on the Children’s Discovery Center board has been unlike any other.

Asked how he came to serve on the center’s board, Striph said: “Loretta just bugged me until I couldn’t say no, which is typical for her. She can be persuasive. She’s unique with this one. It’s her baby. It’s a labor of love for Loretta, there’s no doubt about that. Most people would have given up by now, but not Loretta.”

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    • what the article does not say is that Loretta is the real thing. She works for no salary and never has received a dime. She is from one of Hawaii’s most respected families-the Luke family. She is totally dedicated to the well-being of children and she has made many grants to her own museum. It is tragic that Caldwell refuses to ensure public safety.

        • But the maintenance of public areas including clearing the homeless off public sidewalks and parks in Kakaako is the responsibility of HCDA and the enforcement of park closure rules is the responsibility of the State Department of Land and Natural Resources and the State Sheriff. Nice try buddy but you really need to get your facts straight.

        • Being in the middle of deciding if it’s the C&C or State control/responsibily could be the problem. Just like the stories of the street/road/highways potholes that are/were waiting to get fixed in the past.

    • ALL Hawaii’s politicians, including Caldwell, Ige, Schatz, Hirono, Gabbard, etc., are to blame. Not a single one of them ever spoke out against COFA. Not a single one ever acknowledged that Hawaii cannot afford to house an unlimited number of people who want to live in Hawaii for free. They ALL brought Hawaii to this situation — and this is only the beginning. It will get much, much, much worse. I weep for future generations because Hawaii will be a third world toilet thanks to our “leaders.”

        • Exactly how do you know this? As much as I disliked Inouye and what he stood for, he did do a lot for the state of Hawaii.

      • The Compact of Free Association Act was signed in 1986, when Brian Schatz was in the 8th Grade and Tulsi Gabbard was 4 years old. How dare they not speak out against this legislation!

        Last year, all four members of the Hawaii Delegation did speak out on the COFA issue. “Without federal dollars, Hawaii has borne the cost of care for COFA migrants which has strained the state’s resources,” according to a joint press release from Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz and Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Mark Takai. “Each year, the state spends an estimated $30 to $40 million to provide health care to these families.”

        • COFA is still law. NONE of our current representatives have called for it to be repealed. Begging for the feds to cover a small portion of the cost is NOT properly representing Hawaii’s interests. None of them have ever raised the subject of global warming’s effect on Micronesia, and how that will drive their entire populations to move to Hawaii to freeload. Get back to me when one of them actually pushes for COFA to be repealed; otherwise, I stand by what I said — they ALL support COFA and how it will ruin Hawaii.

      • I’m sorry to say this but if we continue to “feed the birds” they will continue to come and not go away. We are all at fault at some time or another as we give a little here and there. If we, “stop feeding the birds”, then they will either starve and die, or go back home to their families and beg for help. If we continue to let them set up their tents anywhere they want to, give them a dollar, plate lunch, clothes, here and there, now and then, they have no reason to seek help from their families. Why should they work when they can just stick out their hand and eventually those dollars will add up to $60.00 per hour. (a dollar here and a dollar there)If they choose not to seek help from their families, that is their choice. They will eventually starve and die. If the State, City and County, and the generous citizens of Hawaii choose to “feed the birds”, the consequences will follow. They will come. Then more will come. Then our beautiful Hawaii will become like a third world country. I apologize for taking up so much space, but enough is enough. EVERYONE, STOP FEEDING THE BIRDS!!!!!

    • I agree, these Homeless people are disgusting. There should be a Law that Prosecutes the Parents of these people for bringing them in this World to be a BURDEN !!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Don’t know why folks pick on Caldwell for the homeless problem. He has done the MOST to combat it. He got rid of the (de)occupy movement, he pushed and passed an assortment of anti-homeless bills, and he has been trying to build some places to house them (outside of town); all while being confronted at every turn by the ACLU. Has he solved the problem? No. But what did Muffi or Carlisle ever do about the problem? Nothing.

    • Caldwell has done little to nothing but sweep the problem under the rug for the time being with the extremely minute changes he put in place. If he truly wanted to combat the issue he would have shipped all the bums on the next cargo ship destined for the mainland.

  • Another of thousands of daily example of the utter incompetence and willful neglect by government bureaucrats. Only have one priority, taking care of #1. Taxpayers, citizens, are not on their radar screen after election / appointment.

    As for the homeless, time for some tough love. If they will not respect areas like the Children’s Discovery Center, they do not deserve anything from us. Clear them out every day, 24/7, send these losers packing with no respect. Have the cleaning crews come through at all hours of the night with massive hoses to wash their filth away.

    These loser homeless willfully fail to understand if they want assistance, like respect, it must be earned.

  • Why not take the profits from the upcoming concert to benefit the homeless and use it to address the problems created by the homeless at the Children’s Discovery Center?
    After all, aren’t our keiki important?

  • As a parent this is very true.. 2 months ago friends from Maui were here visiting. We made plans to go to when we arrived went to park in the lot behind I drove in and then drove out. I didn’t feel safe the parking lot is behind the place you not open homeless trash was in the lot. So I drove to the public parking and parked facing the place. I was still nervous my car was going to get broke into but we went in and it wasn’t nearly as busy as it used to be 5 years ago.

    Sad, because its an awesome place for kids.

  • Never understood why hours are so short there. Four hours tu-fri, 5 hours sat-sun and closed monday. Figure for a dollar a year rent they should service the public a little better.

  • Posting security personnel on site would mitigate the problems. This can be very easily implemented at a minimal cost to the center. I had several plans to propose to Ms. Yajima over a year ago, however she didn’t want to hear any of them saying that it would be “bad publicity” to the center.

    This place is gonna die a slow death if something isn’t done soon. It’s a shame that such a wonderful place will have to shut down.

  • Probably best to close the center since the State seems unable to handle the homeless problems…until the homeless are discouraged from hanging out there will still be problems of theft and vandalism….really too bad since it’s a nice park……

  • Sad to see the homeless problem getting worse and not better despite claims by the city. Just look at the Chinatown sign near Aala Park. Imagine how tourists feel when they drive past the sign and see a homeless person camped right at the sign. If this happend at San Francisco’s Chinatown, they’d be booted out in minutes. Aala Park is also starting to look like how it was 30+ years ago too. Shame shame shame.

    The board of Directors of the Discovery Center should find another place with less homeless people around and move there. Such a shame that a great place for our keikis has been ruined.

    • Yes, the Discovery Center is an absolutely wonderful place to go–such a great place for kids of all backgrounds and ages. It is criminal that City Leadership has allowed this to happen, but especially around the Discovery Center. I remember going there and after parking, noting that the parking lot and walk to the Center smelled like a huge urinal. Every time I see an article that the Mayor has cleaned it up again (especially around Discovery Center) and declares success, I drive by within a month or less and see the return of deplorable conditions.

  • Went to the Discovery Center for the first time last week. What a great place except for the dummy trying to block my family from walking near the parking lot. The wife warned him not to mess with me. He laughed so I asked him nicely we go by the grassy area while I quietly and nicely put him on his okole and made him apologize. What a nice time we had. Got to practice my judo flips on a real person.

  • When Charles Djou was elected to Congress, one of the first things he did was call for a meeting with the Micronesian ambassadors to the U.S. and demand they answer for the problems their citizens are causing the state of Hawaii. He then announced plans call upon federal lawmakers in his party, which would go on to take control of the U.S. House, to re-negotiate or revise the COFA (Compact Of Free Association), which is the federal law that allows these parasites to infest our state.

    What did voters do? VOTE HIM OUT. Like what you got now? Enjoying those Micronesians living and relieving themselves in your yard? In the playgrounds your kids USED TO play in? Destroying property values? Destroying our home?

    I don’t love the guy as he’s a Punahou and Ivy League DORK and I sure as heck would not hang out with him, but he’s a straight shooter and a true believer and does what he says, even if it costs him elections. After four years of this lying, weak, incompetent snake CALDWELL…Djou might be exactly what our city needs.

    You have a chance to redeem yourselves, Hawaii. Get rid of Kirk. Give Djou a chance. If he sucks? Vote him out in four years! No doubt, Mufi is chomping at the bit for a chance to come back. Put that sole thug in charge of the city and police force and watch how fast the Micronesians, crack-heads and transplant transients are running as fast as they can back to wherever they came from.

    Metro squad, circa 1972. Waikiki was never cleaner. Those were good times.

    You have a chance to

    • I remember the old metro squad…..really big Hawaiian cops….usually they didn’t arrest you…they dragged you into an alley way or someplace out of sight and gave street justice…..the criminals were more fearful of them than going to jail…..

  • HCDA and their counterparts (e.g. sheriff etc) continues to mis-manage the homeless camps at Kakaako. Sad that a leader from the Discovery center had to go to the media to shed the spotlight. Is there even one State Agency that is at least average? Gov where are you on this? Oh, saw news today, going on yet another junket to Okinawa and Japan.

  • Our State should identify the homeland or State where some of these homeless originated from & send them a bill for the welfare of these individuals. They sent them here with a one-way ticket anyway. I reside here so I pay my share. If they want to exist here, the place they were born should pay their way. Not the local taxpayers who are getting raked left & right. Common sense, no degree needed. If we don’t curb this we will be overcome by more homeless looking to get free beachfront property & parks we can’t utilize.

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