Honolulu Police Department Chief Susan Ballard pledged to improve public safety by working with Waikiki stakeholders to make the state’s top tourism district “uncomfortable” for homeless people.
Ballard gave the keynote speech Thursday at a Visitor Public Safety Conference held at the Waikiki Prince Hotel. The event was sponsored by the Hawaii Lodging &Tourism Association, Hawaii Tourism Authority, Waikiki Improvement Association, Waikiki Business Improvement District Association and Hawaii Hotel Visitor Industry Security Association.
Ballard told some 200 conference attendees that she knew their “No. 1 issue, without even asking, is homelessness.”
Waikiki Neighborhood Board Chairman Bob Finley agreed, saying he recently got a call from a 92-year-old woman complaining about homeless people blocking the steps to her building. Finley said he also gets complaints about homeless people “moving their bowels on the beach” or “screaming obscenities.”
Jessica Lani Rich, Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii president and CEO, said a homeless man in February made an unprovoked and brutal attack on a visitor who was taking a smoke break outside one of Waikiki’s major hotels.
“When I visited him in the hospital, he was crying because he was in so much pain. This man, after being in the hospital for two weeks, is now on permanent disability,” Rich said.
Rich said VASH has previously assisted visitors who were attacked. In one instance, Rich said, the visitor was stabbed in the back of her neck while waiting to cross Kuhio Avenue on her birthday. Rich also recalled assisting a woman who was in Hawaii to attend her daughter’s wedding and was assaulted near Duke’s Lane and Kalakaua Avenue.
Justin Phillips, homeless outreach manager for the Institute for Human Services, said his team is aggressive in Waikiki, which they visit at least four times a week. Phillips asked attendees to support assisted community treatment programs and said IHS wants to expand the psychiatry outreach that it uses in Chinatown to Waikiki.
Ballard said police also have “many programs in the hopper” to address homelessness. There’s the department’s HELP unit, which works exclusively with Oahu’s homeless residents, and the proposed Lift Zone Project, which would set up inflatable tents in parks to provide housing and services when shelters are close to capacity.
Ballard discussed removing walls and benches where Waikiki’s homeless residents hang out, and implored fellow Waikiki stakeholders to come up with creative ideas.
“We need to make (Waikiki) an unwelcome place for them to be — not violating civil rights, but make it uncomfortable so that they would want to go to housing,” she said.