KAKAAKO, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The leader of a children's museum and the manager of an oceanfront restaurant in Kakaako said Wednesday their business has plummeted in recent months because of the rising nearby homeless population there, and they begged state officials to do something about the problem.
Dozens of homeless camps now surround the colorful buildings that make up the Children's Discovery Center, a kids' museum. The latest State Health Department count showed there were 183 tents in the area, up from 116 tents two months ago.
The head of that museum told the Hawaii Community Development Authority her business is down 30 percent because of the homeless population.
Loretta Yajima, chair of the Children's Discovery Center board of directors, said she fears attendance will plummet more because some parents have told her they won't bring their kids to the children's museum after State Rep. Tom Brower reported getting beaten up by homeless teens in the area last week.
"I implore our government leaders to take swift and immediate action to address this problem before we at the Children's Discovery Center are forced to close our doors," Yajima said.
Yajima said her staff are constantly dealing with vandalism and theft from the homeless and every day have to clean up after homeless people use the bathroom outside her museum.
She said she inquired with security firms about whether they were interested in bidding on a contract to provide security outside the museum, but didn't get any takers. Yajima said guard companies said they'd insist on two-guard teams to provide each other with protection from potential violence.
Yajima has refused to talk to reporters for years about how homeless problems affect her museum, but spoke in public about the problems for the first time Wednesday after her organization sent state lawmakers a letter detailing their woes in recent weeks, prompting Brower's visit that led to the alleged assault.
Tony Castillo, the general manager of 52 By The Sea restaurant, in the oceanfront location of the former John Dominis restaurant, said wedding business there has suffered because of the homeless.
He said about 25 couples canceled their wedding plans in the first six months of the year after walking through the site and seeing homeless nearby. Castillo estimated that amounts to $125,000 in lost revenue for the restaurant.
"We have the homeless trespassing onto our property, disrupting weddings and other dining guests while they are enjoying themselves. Coming onto our property and harassing our staff from the front employees at the valet all the way to sneaking into our garage and storage areas," Castillo told the board that oversees Kakaako.
Castillo also said his company has had to spend more money to increase security as more and more homeless move to Kakaako, pushed out of other areas such as Waikiki and Chinatown.
For the first time, representatives of the UH Medical School, the Children's Discovery Center and 53 By The Sea restaurant testified that the homeless camps have created a third-world atmosphere that is unsafe and unsanitary.
And they implored the Kakaako authority to do something about the situation.
Virginia Hinshaw, the former University of Hawaii Manoa chancellor and now an official at UH's John A. Burns School of Medicine, said,"The main goal seems to be getting the homeless out of Waikiki because of the tourists. But unfortunately what happens to Kakaako doesn't seem to matter. Well it matters a lot to those of us who work and live there."
"Kakaako is neither equipped nor appropriate to serve as an unauthorized camp for hundreds of homeless and should not be used for that purpose," Hinshaw added.
John Whalen, the chairman of the Hawaii Community Development Authority, said he and his board were just listening and fact-finding and didn't take any formal action on the problem at a meeting Wednesday.
Aedward Los Banos, HCDA's acting executive director, said some improvements to the state's Next Step homeless shelter a few blocks away from the homeless camps may help improve the situation.
Next Step Banos said the state may allow some homeless to move their tents to the shelter on Honolulu's waterfront and also might expand the shelter's capacity, hoping to get more people off the sidewalks.
The shelter may also expand its program offering showers for the homeless from Monday, Wednesday and Friday to seven days a week.
Los Banos said the HCDA's water bill has doubled in the last three years because of vandalism to sprinklers and water lines he attributed to the homeless.