Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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Hawaii News

Funding boosts efforts to reduce Chinatown homelessness

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Above, Mikey Alapaka flashed a shaka while sitting along North Hotel Street on Wednesday. Alapaka, who has been incarcerated most of his life since age 17, calls himself temporarily homeless.

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The Hawaii tourism and hospitality industry presented a $15,000 ceremonial check to the Chinatown Improvement District on Wednesday. The funds will be used to expand private security used by 10 Chinatown merchants.

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A woman slept along Smith Street in Chinatown on Wednesday. Merchants in the area have hired security to warn homeless people against trespassing on private property.

A combination of state funding and matching donations resulted in checks on Wednesday totalling more than $105,000 to two organizations working to address homelessness in Chinatown.

The Hawai‘i Health &Harm Reduction Center raised more than $90,000 on its own to qualify for the $90,162 in state funds that went through the Hawai‘i Lodging &Tourism Association, in partnership with the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority.

The center plans to use the money to hire a staff person to help Honolulu police and state sheriff’s deputies find housing and social service help for homeless people who otherwise face arrest or citations, said Heather Lusk, the organization’s executive director.

Likewise, the Chinatown Improvement District raised $18,000 on its own to qualify for Wednesday’s $15,000 in state funding that it received through the HLTA and HTA during check presentation ceremonies at Chinatown’s Kekaulike Market on Wednesday.

The money will be used to expand private security patrols hired by 10 Chinatown businesses that have authorized security guards to warn homeless people that they are trespassing on private property, often in doorways, according to Lee Stack, president of the Chinatown Improvement District.

The money to the two groups comes as complaints about homeless people continue to pour in every day to the office of Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga, who represents Chinatown.

“I get them daily, daily,” Fukunaga said. “It’s everywhere.”

In May, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser published a five-part series on homelessness in Chinatown that highlighted the complaints about homeless people — along with new programs to address homelessness, such as a new approach called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD.

LEAD, which began in July 2018, takes homeless people who are at risk for a citation or low-level arrest and offers them immediate assistance through a social service agency.

In May Lusk told the Star-Advertiser that 50 homeless people had been enrolled following encounters with either Honolulu police or sheriff’s deputies. At the time, 20 people got off of the street and into shelters; four completed substance abuse treatment; and a couple were reunited with their children.

On Wednesday, Lusk said updated data on LEAD’s progress will be released in the next few weeks and she suggested that the numbers will be encouraging.

Honolulu police Chief Susan Ballard told the Star- Advertiser that the public- private partnership that resulted in Wednesday’s checks will “help the homeless and help the Chinatown community at the same time.”

Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of the Hawai‘i Lodging and Tourism Association, said the idea for the funding came after Ballard told tourism officials in March that homelessness “is our No. 1 issue.”

“Homelessness is pervasive,” Hannemann said. “It’s a quality of life issue that concerns not just the tourists who come here, but our workers and the people who live here.”

Hannemann had lobbied state legislators for $1 million in matching funds to “help our nonprofit groups that are working to reduce homelessness,” he said.

The money disbursed on Wednesday is part of $2.5 million that the state’s tourism industry has distributed across the islands in the last five years for homeless efforts, Hannemann said.

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