Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell says the city is making progress to keep Chinatown sidewalks safe and clear.
He walked through the neighborhood Tuesday, accompanied by police, business owners, and media.
“The police in particular have really ramped it up,” Caldwell said. “They have 13 additional police officers who patrol Chinatown to make sure it’s safe for everyone, and they’ve had over 20 meetings with merchants in the past couple months to sit down and talk story to see what we can do to make sure we’re getting it right.”
One of the biggest changes, Caldwell said, stems from the city’s sit-lie ban.
The original law was signed in September 2014 and applied to Waikiki. A second signing in December 2014 expanded the ban to other neighborhoods, including Chinatown. In February 2015, the ban was expanded even further to include certain pedestrian malls.
According to Maj. Roy Sugimoto, Honolulu Police Department, officers issued more than 13,000 warnings since the ban went into effect, and “since that time, there’s been actually very few arrests, very few citations. A lot of people will heed the warning and move on and clear those areas for people who use the sidewalks.”
“I’m very pleased with the progress we’ve made with the police department,” said Miki Lee, Bar 35 manager. “We’ve increased attention and dialogue so I look forward to more of that, and I do believe it’s a safe area, but I think we do need to pay attention to some things and just keep working together to fix things.”
Caldwell said his administration is also actively working to address the ongoing homelessness issue.
In February 2015, the city opened Pauahi Hale, a hygiene center that provides the homeless a place to freshen up. Caldwell said more than 70 people now use the center over a 24-hour period.
“We found that some folks who actually work in town, ride the bus, get off, take a shower, put on their coat and tie, and then go to work,” he said. “We love this and we’re looking for more ways to bring alternatives to types of restrooms, whether it’s a moving restroom, we’re looking at that for Chinatown. We’re looking at other ways to make this an even better place for everyone who lives here.”
During Tuesday’s tour, a homeless man who claimed to be a Vietnam War veteran demanded more answers. “What are you going to do about Vietnam vets and other vets who are still out on the street?” he asked.
The man said he had been homeless for 11 months.
“We’ve housed almost 600 homeless vets last year alone… Now, we didn’t house everyone. There’s 55 left. Maybe you’re one of the 55,” Caldwell told him. “I want to get to functional zero, meaning that we have housed every vet who is homeless. We’re close and here I run into you today.”
Caldwell promised his office would personally follow up and assist him to find housing.
Caldwell also highlighted the city’s continuing efforts through Housing First to acquire and build permanent supportive housing with wraparound services.