For the first time in its history, the Hawaii Community Development Authority waded into the issue of homelessness Wednesday as it held an open discussion on the burgeoning encampment in Kakaako.

John Whalen, board chairman of HCDA, which oversees the development in Kakaako, said the meeting — while meant only to be “information discussion” — was a first step in getting his agency to take a more active role in addressing the issue.

Tents along Ohe Street in Kakaako. homeless. 3 july 2015. photograph by Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The homeless encampment near the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center in Kakaako has grown dramatically in recent months.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The meeting came less than 10 days after state Rep. Tom Brower, known for once taking a sledgehammer to 30 shopping carts used by homeless people, got into an altercation with a handful of teens from the encampment.

A large portion of the meeting was devoted to hearing what the area’s three main enterprises — the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center, the University of Hawaii medical school, and 53 By The Sea, a restaurant next to Kakaako Waterfront Park — have been going through.

“Kakaako is neither equipped nor appropriate to serve as an unauthorized encampment for hundreds of homeless and should not be used for that purpose.” —  Virginia Hinshaw, UH chancellor emeritus.

According to the Hawaii Department of Health, the number of tents set up by homeless people around them has gone up dramatically — from 62 in September to 185 in June — since the city began enforcing a series of ordinances prohibiting people from sitting or lying in other parts of Honolulu.

Loretta Yajima, chair of the Discovery Center’s board of directors, said safety issues in the area are threatening its business.

“People want us to guarantee the safety of their children if they come to the center, but how can we guarantee their safety?” Yajima said. “We’ve even had people say they aren’t coming back unless we have security to stand there, to accompany (them) to and from (their) cars, so I think it’s a huge issue.”

Tony Castillio, general manager of 53 By The Sea, said the company has lost more than $100,000 in canceled wedding business this year. “It’s affecting our guests as well as our employees as far as the harassment. Mainly, it’s a big safety issue,” he said.

The situation could even raise an accreditation issue for the medical school, said Virginia Hinshaw, UH’s chancellor emeritus.

“We are not lacking in empathy for the homeless; however, our patience is exhausted after many years of trying to fix it and watching this problem escalate in Kakaako,” Hinshaw said. “Kakaako is neither equipped nor appropriate to serve as an unauthorized encampment for hundreds of homeless and should not be used for that purpose.”

But Tracy Martin said the troubles are caused by only a handful of the residents in the encampment.

“We’re just trying to survive. We don’t want to be there,” said Martin, who has lived there off and on for two years with his wife, Tabitha, and daughter, Thalia.

HCDA staff member Aedward Los Banos said his agency is limited in what it can do since it isn’t a social service agency — it has to rely on other city and state entities to come up with a long-term solution to homelessness.

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