WHT editorial: Make example out of trouble-making homeless

On Monday, a Kailua-Kona business owner took issue with West Hawaii Today’s Sunday enterprise story on the aggressive behavior by some of the homeless that has seemingly escalated over the last couple of years.

The story examined at exceptional level how more and more stakeholders think that behavior is getting so bad, so brazen, it’s ruined Kona Village. This, despite homeless numbers dropping by 38 percent from 2016-2018, according to the state agencies that tally such figures.


The owner, not one to mince words or even pause to take a breath, took issue with the paper quoting the figures, so aghast was he to the notion that they were down.

“What a bunch of (bleep),” said the owner, who has cleaned up meth pipes and used condoms when opening his early morning establishment.

“You wanna talk about homeless, talk to me,” he bellowed at the editorial board.

We share his words as just another illustration in a story that was bursting at the seems with them.

People are beyond frustrated. They think Kona’s atmosphere is getting progressively worse. And they don’t care what the figures say.

“I’m not proud of my town,” Nakoa Pabre, owner of Umeke’s Fishmarket Bar and Grill, told West Hawaii Today in the story. “I want to be. We’ve got to come together as a community and step up and take our town back.”

He’s right.

The effort to combat Kona’s homeless problem will take everyone, from politicians to business owners, residents and police. Because the anecdotal evidence is too much to ignore.

Kona’s reputation has already taken a hit. When tourists and locals use words like uncomfortable and intimidating, stakeholders should sound the alarm. No, sitting on the seawall in the afternoon isn’t illegal. But squatting and soiling state lands, blocking sidewalks with junk, using illegal drugs, being drunk and aggressive in public and vandalism are. And that’s what we’re talking about.

Fortunately, politicians have recognized this and put a lot in place.

Plans are moving forward on a large-scale emergency homeless site in West Hawaii that may be operational inside of four months off Kealakehe Parkway in Kona.

The project would devote a roughly 5-acre portion of what will eventually be a 15-acre parcel comprising the proposed Village 9 site to immediate homeless housing. The rest will be built out in the months and years to follow.

It would be next to a neighborhood and the long-awaited Kealakehe Regional Park, which is a good thing. We believe many living on the streets would flourish if given the chance to clean up and integrate into a community.

If there are 869 homeless across Hawaii County — a number taken from the state’s 2018 Point-In-Time Count — it’s reasonable to assume 250-350 or so of those are around Kailua-Kona. If 50, 75, even 100 people take advantage of the housing component, that’s a significant chunk out of the overall total. Such impact would be felt immediately.

It’s encouraging to see the county continue this pursuit.

More needs to be done, however.

Namely, the Hawaii Police Department needs to make this the priority the community is begging it to be.

“I’d say we don’t deal with that many of them,” explained Sgt. Joseph Stender Jr., with the Hawaii Police Department’s Community Policing Division, in the Sunday story. “The total number compared to how many we actually interact with that are violating laws, the number is fairly small.”

If most of the problems posed by the homeless population are caused by a handful of individuals, men and women uninterested in life off the streets, then crack down on them.

Community meetings with business owners can easily help identify the problem population. Many know the names and faces of the worst troublemakers in their areas.

Cross-referencing community data with police records should narrow down the few dozen individuals roaming the streets and causing most of the problems.

Prolific, aggressive sweeps will catch these repeat offenders as they violate laws they’ve grown accustomed to breaking.

And then the police must treat them as repeat offenders. Seriously.

Putting the petty criminal with a substance abuse problem away cleans up the village, sends a message to the rest of the violators, and gives the perpetrator a legitimate shot at rehabilitation because under lock and key, sobriety will be forced upon them.

Stakeholders, police included, estimate it’s as few as 10-20 individuals causing a majority of the problem, at least in the Old Industrial Area. Our jails have room for 10-20 recidivists, regardless of the nature of their crimes. How many misdemeanors does it take to make a felony?

The overcrowded jails argument doesn’t stick, not when the number of high priority violators is this small and the community is clamoring for policing the aggressive homeless to become a true enforcement priority.

It was two years ago when police created a task force to crackdown on stolen vehicles in Puna, an effort that landed immediate results.

Kona deserves the same. It’s overdue.