Honolulu’s original neighborhood — the 52.2-acre parcel of land known as Chinatown — still feels “safe” to 64% of registered voters despite complaints about homelessness, crime and concerns early this year that it could be the source of COVID-19.
That a majority of residents feel “safe” is clearly good news for a beleaguered Chinatown, which has been struggling to attract customers to its produce stands, lei shops and homeopathic remedy businesses by day — and bars and restaurants at night — since the outbreak and subsequent global economic slowdown.
“It’s definitely good news,” said Eric Wong.
Wong manages 76 low- income apartment units above Kekaulike Market and helped to organize a weekly walking patrol of mostly senior Chinatown residents until they were forced to shelter in place because of the pandemic.
While complaints about homelessness and petty crimes continue, Wong believes Chinatown’s reputation has improved as the result of paid private security patrols that augment the Honolulu Police Department’s Chinatown substation, and an emphasis by city and state officials to highlight Chinatown, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns that it could be a source of the new coronavirus.
“There is a sense of security,” Wong said. “That means some of it (the cause of complaints) has gone, but there is still stuff going on.”
A plurality of registered voters who responded to The Hawaii Poll in July — or 47% — said that they “rarely” or “never” visit Chinatown.
But of those who go to Chinatown anywhere from once a year to every month, a majority of 64% said they feel safe. Another 32% said they do not feel safe, with 4% saying they are “unsure.”
Robert Creamer, 65, of Manoa is among 24% of respondents to The Hawaii Poll who said he would visit Chinatown once to three times a year, until COVID-19 cut down many of his excursions to Chinatown and elsewhere, such as dining out or going to a movie.
But a couple of times a year, Creamer would shop in Chinatown for produce or “just to see what’s going on, occasionally to a restaurant,” he said.
Creamer rarely went to a Chinatown bar or a restaurant at night.
Asked whether he felt safe, he said, “During the day? Yeah. Why not? During the daytime I never felt uncomfortable.”
The Hawaii Poll, conducted July 20-22 by telephone by Mason-Dixon Polling &Strategy of Washington, D.C., included 625 registered Oahu voters. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The Hawaii Poll was conducted six months after Lt. Gov. Josh Green in February posted a video of him shaking hands with Chinatown merchants and declaring “Chinatown is open” as sales began to slide.
Green’s visit to Chinatown followed concerns about the new coronavirus spreading from Wuhan, China, to Honolulu’s Chinatown, becoming a source for COVID-19 in Hawaii.
On June 30, Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced a $200,000 contract to power- wash and disinfect sidewalks in Chinatown, increase police patrols, remove graffiti, enforce proper trash disposal practices and engage the arts community to beautify Chinatown.
“I believe that the beat of this island, its heart, is in Chinatown,” Caldwell said at a news conference announcing the stepped-up measures. “The City and County of Honolulu is making a commitment to do more for Chinatown.”
Earlier this month Green criticized Caldwell’s efforts called “Dine in Chinatown” and “Open Street Kalakaua,” which drew hundreds of maskless participants to enjoy the outdoors and stimulate business in Waikiki and Chinatown.
Green and Caldwell are considered likely candidates to challenge one another when Gov. David Ige’s term ends in 2022.
The Hawaii Poll found similarities among those who say they never or rarely go to Chinatown, including statistically identical numbers of men (46%) and women (47%).
But there was a large gap between people 50 years and older (54%) versus those under age 50 (39%) who never or rarely visit Chinatown.
And there was a similar chasm between Republicans (52%) who never or rarely venture into Chinatown compared with Democrats (31%).