Tourism industry donates to curb Waikiki's homeless problem

Tourism industry donates to curb Waikiki's homeless problem

WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - The tourism industry is now donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to curb Waikiki's homeless problem.

The goal is to get hundreds of homeless off the streets in a year.

Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association (HLTA) is giving the Institute for Human Services (IHS) $100,000 this year in addition to the same amount next year. But that's just to kick start the program.

"When the number one complaint from our visitors is why they will not be coming back to Hawaii is homeless, you have an issue," said George Szigeti, President and CEO of HLTA.

"So when IHS came to us with a plan of action tailored to address the homeless situation in our Waikiki community, we were pleased and we immediately pledged our support," Szigeti said.

Executive Director for IHS Connie Mitchell says the partnership with the tourism industry is unique.

"Really what it goes to is fielding a team specifically for Waikiki to be here intensively at least four times a week with a pickup from Waikiki to IHS so that we're able to really help people access the services that they really need," said Mitchell.

In addition, IHS hopes to establish a resource center for the homeless in Waikiki.

"I think a lot of people may not even know about IHS who are in Waikiki. So it's really an opportunity for us to just let people know that there is help if they're looking for help," Mitchell said.

Mitchell says there are currently about 500 individuals who call the streets of Waikiki home.

The goal during the first year is to get 300 of them either into shelters or back to their home state.

IHS says it hopes to help about 120 homeless from the mainland go back. The homeless will have to pay at least half of their plane ticket and if they can't afford it, IHS says they will help them find the money.

Robert Binnie lived on the streets of Waikiki for nearly six years. But now with help from IHS, he is studying to become a math teacher.

"The counselors are talented. I went in reluctant. I didn't want to clean up, I didn't want to give up the booze, I didn't want to stop smoking, I loved my booze, it's everything I woke up for. But they were so shrewd, they got me to stop," Binnie said.

The program officially launches on Monday.

Mitchell says another $400,000 a year will need to come from other donors in order to keep it going.

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