Two critical changes announced in Chinatown cleanup efforts
For years, Honolulu officials have tried to clean up the Chinatown area. Some residents are cheering an announcement they think will change the dynamic of their neighborhood.
Is Honolulu's Chinatown better off than it was a year ago? Even for Anton Krucky, director of the city's Department of Community Services concurs, it depends on the day.
An extended interview with Anton Krucky also aired on The Aloha Friday Conversation on Jan. 28, 2022. Listen below.
Recently, store windows have been smashed from King Street through the Hotel Street area, including at the Honolulu Police Department substation. Two arrests were made.
On the other hand, area residents and leaders are hailing word that a free food program has agreed to move out of Chinatown. Krucky has been the lead on negotiations with River of Life, a ministry that area neighbors call a magnet for undesirable behavior.
“They're committed to moving their feeding operation,” Krucky said. “So there are a couple of things they want to operationalize to get ready to finalize that contract. But we're not negotiating the contract anymore, and that will happen.”
Residents and businesses in the area can't help but remember that Mayor Kirk Caldwell made a similar announcement in 2020. Krucky says there are also changes coming to Safe Haven, a home for mentally ill homeless on Pauahi Street, across from River of Life.
“We're going to continue to support that program,” Krucky said. ”We’re just going to do it in another location. We’re going to clean up that building some and we’ll put a different sort of clientele in it. It will still have a homeless nexus but it will be family-oriented.”
Krucky is planning to reopen the public bathrooms on that city block near Safe Haven. HPD and sanitation crews have recently reclaimed the River Street embankment at the end of that block on Pauahi. 24/7 street patrols began last summer and will continue at least through the year.
Last week, HPD made two arrests in that string of window smashings that has terrified shop owners.
“It takes a while to catch some of these people that are breaking the glass and everything else,” Krucky said. “But Major Sung has done a good job on that. They've been a very active partner in this whole process.”
Over 100 felony arrests were made in the last five months in Chinatown through the Weed and Seed partnership.
City Prosecutor Steve Alm emphasizes members in that partnership believe mental health and/or drug/alcohol problems are the core issue for most chronically homeless individuals.
According to Krucky, “The key for us in the areas I work is really, can we expand that decision-making on the street? From just, you need to move, to, we can offer them HONU (Homeless Outreach and Navigation.) We have Weed and Seed. We have CORE now. And launching a new department in the city was a lot of effort.”
CORE, or Crisis Outreach Response and Engagement, teams offer a medical or social service alternative to law enforcement in response to homeless complaints. The new department is under City Emergency Services.
“That division, where it already has the ambulances, it has Ocean Safety, and then it's going to have CORE," Krucky said. "And we can move this thing along in the directions that can have some real substantial results for the individuals that we're trying to treat and for the communities we're trying to work in.”
Krucky says city spaces around Punawai Rest Stop in ʻIwilei will be reactivated, offering food service, treatment, and affordable housing. He says a new resource center is also ready to open, and these services will draw people out of Chinatown.
Then, people need somewhere to go.
“I really do believe transitional housing villages are an important component,” Krucky said. “I'm dedicated to getting some. One of the villages, for sure, I want to be in partnership with our large Hawaiian organizations so the healing process will be using Hawaiian values. That will be the thing that will draw them into it, because you canʻt take people to it.”
In 2021, the city's new Oʻahu Housing Now program leveraged new landlord incentives and changed the bar to participate — 240 families got housed, over 600 people.
Krucky calls it a new tool in the arsenal.
“We learned some things from that program. We learned what landlords need. And if it’s not in the HUD program, maybe can look at creating a revolving fund that could create those same benefits and surround the Section 8 vouchers for the benefit of the landlords," he said.
Krucky said the city currently has a $40 million solicitation out for affordable housing, and he expects some quality bids to come in for properties in Chinatown.
Meanwhile, with Chinese New Year preparations already underway, disruptions continue. A certain person, Herman, has been documented harassing pedestrians on Maunakea Street for weeks. He and his caseworker are reportedly developing a treatment plan.
A community meeting for Chinatown stakeholders and city principals is planned for February.