This is why we can’t have nice things.
Because we can’t take care of nice public places, can’t defend them, can’t establish and enforce rules to keep things from being ruined.
Just about every waterside promenade on public land is a mecca for homeless camps now. A walk through downtown requires holding one’s breath past reeking alleys and stepping over sleeping bodies in doorways. There are parks and trails and bridges that have been ceded to the homeless, no longer available for public use.
The Children’s Discovery Center in Kakaako and Iolani Palace are high-profile victims of the unmanaged spread of homeless camps on Oahu.
Iolani Palace’s grounds will now be closed at 6 every night rather than 11 because of problems of vandalism and hygiene wrought by homeless campers who take over the area as the sun sets on downtown Honolulu.
The Children’s Discovery Center, the charming attraction for tots in Kakaako, is suffering from the intractable shantytown that has surrounded the facility, in different shapes and configurations, for years. The Center’s CEO, Loretta Yajima, summed up the situation perfectly in a recent piece published by this newspaper:
“For years I have remained relatively quiet about the plight of the homeless, out of empathy for those who find themselves in such a devastating situation, out of respect for their legal rights, and out of our sense of aloha impressed on all of us here in Hawaii by our parents.
“But, over time, we have learned to make the subtle but clear distinction between those who truly want help and those who scoff at it — between those who desperately want a helping hand, and those who readily slap it away.”
It’s not just the piles of poop by the door. Those are washed away every day. The big problem is parking. There is no way a mom wants to park her car and go through the complicated process of getting her child or children out of car seats. Those are vulnerable moments when your hands are busy, your eyes are on your kid and your back is turned. And what’s behind your back? Piles of tents and lean-tos and all manner of detritus and the glaring eyes of the people who chose to live that way. Nothing you want to look at but nothing you want to turn your back to, either.
Then there’s the unprotected walk with the kids from the parking area to the Discovery Center. Once inside, there’s an ever-present worry in each parent’s mind while they’re supposed to be having fun with their tots: Is the car safe? Can I get someone to walk with us back to the car?
Yajima is totally right. The hard-core, belligerent, sometimes violent homeless are taking over. They are a danger to the public, a danger to themselves and, in too many cases, gravely disabled, and nobody has any idea how to deal with the problem other than to timidly ask them to please move somewhere else.
Reach Lee Cataluna at 529-4315 or firstname.lastname@example.org.