Hawaii Drives Homeless from Tourist Areas

As Waikiki Moves Homeless Out of Tourist Zones, Some Fear Perpetual Displacement

By Liz Barney, March 29, 2017

Aguirre Dick used to spend the night in the streets and parks of Waikiki, the jewel of Hawaii’s tourism industry. But now, every evening, the homeless man must ride his bike three miles from the beach neighborhood and ascend the cinder slopes of a volcano to sleep – or risk arrest.

The homeless population in Waikiki has dropped by 83% over the past two years, according to a local nonprofit that provides homeless services in the area. While many have been housed, others say they have simply been pushed out, with unwanted implications for the rest of Honolulu.

A 2014 law made it illegal to sit or lie on public sidewalks in Waikiki, a move championed by a worried tourism industry. Visitors to the islands must reconcile their idea of a Pacific idyll with the highest per-capita rate of homelessness of any US state, and until recently the prime example was Waikiki.

But as other neighborhoods seek to copy Waikiki’s example, critics are concerned that homeless people could be forced into a state of perpetual displacement.

“The police told me get out of Waikiki, but they keep moving us around,” Dick said earlier this month. He was worried by rumors that police would move him on from his new sleeping place along the Diamond Head volcanic crater. “They’re trying to bury us.”

Waikiki is renowned for its pellucid water, high rises and luxury storefronts. According to recent data, the mile-long seaside stretch accounted for $7.3bn in tourism revenue in 2015, or 42% of Hawaii’s total tourism spending statewide. It is also responsible, based on 2010 numbers, for more than 30,000 local jobs.

But homelessness in Waikiki was the number one complaint among tourists before the sit-lie ban, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority president, George Szigeti. “The sit-lie ban was needed in Waikiki,” Szigeti said, praising it for “virtually eliminating homelessness in most high-traffic areas”. …

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