HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - As the sun dips below the horizon and night falls on Waikiki, faces change.
Crowds of drifters are drawn to the state’s top tourist destination, many lured by booze and the hustle.
“They’re all scattered around Waikiki,” said a man named Frank while panhandling outside the Billabong on Kalakaua Avenue. “You survive in the city.”
According to the Institute for Human Services, 306 homeless people were counted in 2018 within the boundaries of Waikiki.
Close to 80 are fixtures in the tourist district. Some of them have lived on the streets for decades.
People like Steven who was near Kuhio Beach on a recent night.
Pointing to his legs, he asked, “You know what these wounds are from? They’re all over me. You know what they’re from? Cheap vodka!”
Often conversations are as raw as the living conditions.
But for IHS outreach workers Justin Phillips and Tien Austin, they’re also a rare opportunity to interact with Oahu’s most hardened homeless.
The two offer them a ride and a safe place to stay when they’re most vulnerable.
“Aren’t you worried about being hit by a car sleeping this close to the side of the road,” Phillips asked a man who had been passed out next to a Biki station.
Phillips and Austin have been conducting outreach on the streets of Waikiki for two months.
It’s a new strategy that has them working in tandem with Honolulu police officers. Already, it’s connecting them to people they’ve never seen before.
“When we’re out here at night we reach a totally different population than day outreach would,” said Austin. “There are some people that might be more willing to accept help.”
People like James Brewer. The 79-year-old Vietnam vet suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has been on the streets nearly his entire adult life.
On Thursday night, he showed up to St. Augustine’s Church.
In addition to food and a hot shower, medics provide free after hours healthcare.
“This thing is cancerous,” said Brewer pointing at a wound on his back. “Basal cell.”
Nurses treated and re-dressed the lesion. “It looks good,” one nurse told him. “It’s the best I’ve seen it.”
Back on the street, outreach workers have a breakthrough, years in the making.
Phillips asks Steven, “If we could get you into shelter, would you go to a shelter until you get into housing?”
"Yes,” Steven yelled.
“We have a deal,” Phillips replied.
Austin said the success story shows that there’s hope even in the hardest cases.
“People need to be able to feel comfortable with you in order to accept help,” he said. “I think that it takes time and it takes building trust with people.”