Lawmakers discuss impact of Waikiki homeless on tourism industry

Robyn Gilbert & Dorie Thompson
Robyn Gilbert & Dorie Thompson
Paul Oshiro
Paul Oshiro
Jason Griffith
Jason Griffith

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - When you think of Hawaii, you might picture the sun, surf and swaying palm trees. But lately, visitors have also been getting a good dose of the growing homeless population at our parks and beaches.

A legislative committee on Monday discussed the impact of homelessness on Hawaii's tourism industry.

The House tourism chair is once again pushing for the establishment of Safe Zones, areas where the homeless can set up camp away from tourist settings like Waikiki and Ala Moana.

A person's belongings stuffed under a tarp. A man catching some shut-eye on a park bench. Those are the images that tourists didn't see in the travel brochure.

"Hawaii has always been so beautiful city, place to visit," Dorie Thompson, visitor from California, said. "Now, I've noticed quite a few people homeless and laying in sleeping bags."

"It's incredible how many there are," Robyn Gilbert, visitor from California, said. "I think you guys have a problem."

It's that kind of reaction that has many visitor industry officials concerned. But there's still no concrete plan to fix it.

"(Governor Abercrombie) wants to eliminate homelessness," Marc Alexander, the state's new homeless coordinator, said. "He wants it done in a way that respects the dignity of each human person and allows our citizens to be fully involved, get the whole community involved in this."

Sharon Malloy and Paul Oshiro of the Waikiki Health Center visit the homeless in Waikiki about twice a week, offering medical help, food and mental health services.

"What I've noticed is that the severely mentally ill population, especially the transient homeless population from the mainland, has increased quite tremendously," Oshiro said.

"They're stable enough to get on a plane to come here," Darlene Hein, Waikiki Health Center, explained to lawmakers. "But they come here and they decompensate pretty quickly because they can't get meds."

There was no action taken at Monday's informational briefing. So for now, tourists and the homeless will have to share the Waikiki landscape.

"It is a nice place to live and homeless people like it, too," Jason Griffith, homeless man originally from New York, said. "It's a warm climate. That's probably why they're here, too, and staying here. Yeah, it might be a little bit bothersome, but I guess you gotta live with each other."

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