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Honolulu law enforcement is no longer the only response to complaints about homeless people

Homeless Chinatown September 2021
The intersection of Smith and Pauahi streets in Honolulu's Chinatown, September 2021

After dealing with the same perpetrators year after year, Honolulu is changing the way it responds to complaints about homeless residents. When those complaints come into 911, law enforcement is not the only response option.

The City and County of Honolulu has created Crisis Outreach Response and Engagement, or CORE, which offers medical and social services to those in need on the streets.

CORE is run by Emergency Services Director Dr. James Ireland. He said the idea is to send appropriate services to a crisis situation.

"If the person has psychiatric issues and is potentially dangerous, the police will still go with CORE. But they'll go in partnership and if the patient hasn't committed a crime, the CORE ambulance unit will take them to either a clinic or ER for treatment," Ireland said.

Chinatown Homeless 1.jpeg

Ireland said if the problem is purely medical, the police would not respond. 911 dispatchers will be tasked with assigning the appropriate response based on established national criteria.

This program has taken practices from successful models in other states. Funding comes from the American Rescue Plan, with $3.5 million being spread over 4 years to run the pilot project.

"But the other thing the CORE team is doing is, they're just walking around in Chinatown and driving around in Chinatown and Waikiki and they're engaging homeless people on their own, to find out why they're there," Ireland told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

The idea is to link them with services.

Prosecutor Steve Alm reports that in the last five months of Weed & Seed in Chinatown, Honolulu police have arrested and are prosecuting 107 defendants on felony charges.

Most are drug-related, and 91 of those charged were without residences. However, people exhibiting anti-social behavior on the streets are still there, according to Chinatown residents.

For non-emergency, non-law enforcement-related concerns, the number to Crisis Outreach Response and Engagement is 808-768-2673. They aim to respond within 24 to 48 hours.

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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