Businesses plead for long-term solutions as they ‘play police’ with aggressive patrons

Many employees aren't trained to deal with combative customers, especially when it involves drugs or mental illness. And they fear retaliation.
Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 4:38 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Some Hawaii businesses are reporting more confrontations with homeless people they describe as aggressive.

And they say the situation is impacting their bottom line.

Mike Palmer owns Kuhio Avenue Food Hall in Waikiki and says it’s the worst he’s seen in 22 years.

“Our management staff, unfortunately, has to play police constantly,” said Palmer.

“We get alerted to homeless people that are bothering our guests and are inside our restaurant.”

Many employees aren’t trained to deal with combative customers, especially when it involves drugs or mental illness, he said. And they fear retaliation.

“Our staff is afraid to go walk home at night alone because people are getting jumped and bullets are flying,” Palmer said, referring to increased reports of crime in the area.

Sheryl Matsuoka, executive director of the Hawaii Restaurant Association, said calling the police is often the only recourse.

“Don’t try to take it upon yourself to do anything,” she said.

“Call the police that are trained on how to de-escalate the situation.”

She says HRA members are reporting more cases of harassment and violence.

She adds some homeless people seem to “have no fear.”

Matsuoka says most incidents are resolved without issue, but sometimes altercations result in injuries and property damage, like a recent incident at her store in Manoa.

She said someone was asked to leave. He did and then put his fist through the glass window.

Security guards and cameras can help, but many small businesses can’t afford them.

McDonald’s franchise owner Victor Lim says a positive but firm approach works well at his Fort Street Mall downtown location.

“We engage with them and tell them basically, what the rules of engagement are gonna be if you want to be served in our restaurant,” said Lim.

“If you talk to them, they understand. And so I would encourage people to give them a chance first.”

Many residents and business owners say more police presence and patrols can be a deterrent, but add long-term solutions are needed to address the real issue.

“We’re hoping that there’s more organizations that can help these people so that they can get the services that they need, so that they can come off the streets,” Matsuoka said.