Overnight airport lobby closure cuts down on homeless
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new policy that began March 13 to close lobbies and baggage claim areas at Honolulu International Airport has drastically cut down on the number of homeless people sleeping there overnight, officials said.
To discourage homeless people from sleeping at the airport overnight, the state closed overseas airport lobbies and baggage claim areas from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m.
Each night, security personnel put up red tape marked "no entry" to shut off many public areas at the airport.
"We were hearing from people, airline employees, airport employees and passengers, that some of them were having concerns with all the people who were loitering here overnights," said Tim Sakahara, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.
Sakahara said a few dozen homeless people were told to leave the airport the first couple of nights two and a half weeks ago, but now it's down just a handful of homeless people being told to leave the airport each night.
The lobby closures mean regular travelers also cannot stay in the lobbies overnight and they must go into a holding area off of lobby 5, where their boarding passes and itineraries are checked before they are allowed to go through TSA checkpoints.
Craig Fujii of Waipahu spent nearly two hours in the room between about 12 and 2 a.m. Friday, when he was flying to Los Angeles.
"I can't help but feel for the visitors that came to Hawaii, they're being taken into this grimy little room to wait until agents show up," Fujii said.
He said he had a 6:30 a.m. United Airlines flight to Los Angeles, but since it was a school night, his family dropped him off at the airport at midnight, more than six hours before his flight.
Fujii said because the check-in counters were closed overnight, he didn't want to take his checked baggage through TSA checkpoints, only to have to go back out to the ticket counters once they opened a few hours later and check in his baggage.
"I would have preferred waiting in an open area rather than being shut away in a holding area," Fujii said. "It appears that our burgeoning homeless population has another unintended consequence."
Sakahara, of the state DOT, said, "This is the first complaint we've had. Actually, it's been so successful the issue we've been seeing is that people want to stay in the staging area. It's actually very comfortable in there, often times we were having coffee, tea and water, free of charge of course."
Sakahara said the state may move the holding area to an open waiting area just off Lobby 5, in front of the Honolulu district airport office tower.
"If they don't want to stay in the staging areas, they don't have to," Sakahara said. "They can come back out, they can go to a hotel, they can go home, they can go anywhere they want, essentially and come back when their flight leaves later on that morning."
Officials said between 30 and 50 passengers are using the holding area overnight.
Airport travelers had mixed opinions about the efforts to crack down on homeless campers at the airport.
"It may be selfish. I don't understand it because these people need a place to stay," said Ed White, who was heading out of Honolulu on a flight back to Fairbanks, Alaska.
Dan Duggan, who was on a layover at HNL on his way back home to Long Island, New York, said, "I think it's unfair because we shouldn't have to suffer because people don't go to shelters. We have centers for homeless people a lot of them are mentally ill and choose not to take the care."
Sources said some homeless people are finding discarded boarding passes and trying to claim to be passengers on flights, but their photo IDs don't match the names on the tickets or the boarding passes are for flights that have already arrived.
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