Government agencies continue to discuss long-term plans such as permanent housing for nearly 500 homeless men, women and children encamped in Kakaako.
But now it’s time for the city and state to take action to come up with immediate, near-term solutions.
Gov. David Ige said Thursday his administration is working with Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell to create a new emergency shelter area in Kakaako on state land that’s away from the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center.
The governor says, “Obviously the situation at the Children’s Discovery Center is unfortunate. That is why we want to find another area for the homeless.”
The Discovery Center is surrounded by nearly 200 homeless tents on Ohe Street.
Discovery Center Board Chair Loretta Yajima told the Hawaii Community Development Authority board Wednesday that the children’s museum may have to shut down if homeless vagrants continue to defecate on the facility’s playground, damage equipment and scare away young visitors.
She says since the homeless encampment began to expand, museum attendance has dropped by 30 percent.
And some parents, worried about safety, have taken their children out of the museum’s summer programs, she says.
Homelessness by the children’s museum has grown rapidly since Kakaako Makai became a de facto safe zone for people pushed off Waikiki and Chinatown sidewalks by the city’s new sit-lie laws.
“To put a homeless encampment next to a children’s museum is incomprehensible, “ says Yajima.
Mayor Caldwell’s spokesman, Jesse Broder Van Dyke, confirmed that the mayor was meeting with the governor Thursday to discuss a location to move the homeless encampment, but he says it’s too early to make an announcement.
Ige says his administration is working with HCDA (the state agency in charge of Kakaako development) and the city to identify a parcel of state land to locate a new temporary emergency area for the homeless with bathroom, showers and other services.
John Whalen, board chairman of the HCDA, says a possible site under consideration is the parking lot next to the Next Step Homeless Shelter at Pier 1, west of Kakaako Waterfront Park.
“But there still needs to be some investigation,” says Whalen.
Whalen says HCDA is also prepared to open the now vacant J.K.K. Look Laboratory in Kakaako for homeless to store their belongings when their encampment is moved to a new location.
The University of Hawaii formerly leased the Look Laboratory for ocean research. It features an 18,000-square-foot warehouse.
Whalen says it is important to move the homeless camp for the security and safety of both the Kakaako tenants and for the homeless families with children.
Ige says he has no date yet for when a new emergency shelter area would be operating.
“Creating homeless shelters, even temporary shelters, does take some time,” says Ige.
Yajima applauds the possible move of the encampment over to the Next Step Shelter area, saying, “Even though it is still in Kakaako, it will be far enough away.”
Yajima says when it comes to immediate help, the museum is in great need of government funding to pay for security guards and to repair and clean up after damage done to the museum’s equipment and grounds by the homeless.
Gov. Ige says the Children’s Discovery Center could apply for a state grant in aid to help with that.
Since there are no toilet facilities close to the homeless encampment, vagrants regularly break into the children’s museum play yard to steal water to bathe and wash their clothes, and they have turned the grounds into their own bathroom.
Tracy Martin, a homeless camper who lives in Kakaako with his wife and child, has been trying to prevent other homeless residents from invading the Children’s Discovery Center.
He strung up orange netting behind the museum to protect the facility, but the netting has already been ripped open.
Yajima says another pool of diarrhea was left Thursday for her staff to clean up before the children arrived for their summer programs.
Yajima says she wishes to find a way “to implore the people not to defecate on the Children’s Discovery Center, not to use it as a toilet. It is constant. If the city or state would clean it up, it would help us.”
Virginia Hinshaw, a professor at the University of Hawaii medical school, told the HCDA board Wednesday, “Our patience is exhausted after many years of trying to fix and watching this problem escalate in Kakaako.”
Hinshaw says with the safety and security of the medical students at stake, the school could lose its accreditation.
Another Kakaako tenant, a restaurant and wedding chapel called 53 By The Sea, says since the homeless encampment began to swell its wedding business in the last six months dropped off with $120,000 lost in wedding cancellations.
Chihori Miki, a manager of weddings at the Terrace at 53 by the Sea, says a homeless man spray-painted one of their bride’s wedding gowns.
She says homeless people have harassed wedding guests. The restaurant also says its employees are intimidated as they walk out to Ala Moana Boulevard at night to catch the bus home from work.
Gov. Ige says, “We do know the situation is impacting the businesses in the area and it is impacting the Children’s Discovery Center.”
The governor’s office says Ige is also looking beyond Kakaako at other available state parcels to determine if they might be useful for homeless shelter areas in the future.
And he is talking to neighbor island mayors who are impacted by their own homeless issues.