Merchants deal with disruptions by homeless

Merchants deal with disruptions by homeless

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Some merchants in the Downtown-Chinatown area worry that frequent disruptions by homeless people are bad for business. Some stores close up early because their owners are afraid of staying open after dark. They've endured all kinds of problems, including threats and nudity.

The owner of Let Them Eat Cupcakes hoped for sweet success when she opened for business more than three years ago, but now she is thinking about moving due to constant run-ins with homeless people.

"It's just so hard to deal with. I'm always worried about my staff workers," said Kawehi Haug.

Haug said the first time she ran into trouble was last November when a man stole some milk from the store and then took out a knife on Fort Street Mall. Workers are now calling police twice a week on average. Besides troublemakers coming inside, employees encounter drug use and other crimes while taking out the trash.

"One girl went and someone was shooting up and they just yelled at her to leave. She was scared and she came running back," said Haug. "Or just like people naked in the alley."

Despite some problems with the homeless, the owners of Lucky Belly are opening another restaurant across the street from their current one.

"Some people, unfortunately, have to use the restroom on the sidewalk and that's discomforting and unappetizing for guests walking to our restaurant," said co-owner Dusty Grable.

Safe Haven is a shelter that assists homeless people who are mentally ill. The agency is reaching out to several individuals identified by merchants as needing help.

"Some of the people were bursting into stores and cafes, screaming and exposing themselves. Some of them were just being filthy on the street and otherwise making a nuisance of themselves, panhandling," explained Bill Hanrahan of Safe Haven.

But getting them off the streets is a challenge.

"A lot of them are very mentally ill. They're very paranoid. They're not very trustful. They've been in and out of the mental health system several times so it's very difficult," said Hanrahan.

The group is hopeful, however, about making a difference in the neighborhood.

"Once they're in, they tend to stay in and work with us. They go to groups. They work with their case managers. They get psychiatric services," said Haug.

Honolulu police urge business owners to call 9-1-1 about an incident if they're willing to meet with an officer and file a complaint. Officers can issue a trespass warning or other violation.

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