Hawaii during Covid19

Not My Kaka’ako

As a family travel blogger, I love telling stories about the cities my family and I have visited— like the time we spent a few years traveling around Europe in an RV —or sharing foodie experiences with our followers on Instagram.
Most importantly, as a Hawaiian, I love promoting the food, culture, and beauty of my home, Hawaii. A majority of the time my family’s travel experiences are positive but sometimes they’re not. Like the time I spent part of my vacation in jail in the Middle East, the time we got bed bugs and learned ALL about checking for them before we settle in to hotel rooms
…or now, right in my backyard.
The attack, which occurred mid-morning, happened in an area that’s quickly being redeveloped and revitalized. According to an article in 2014 by Hawaii Business Magazine, Kaka’ako is being remade for the 21st century. The area has been growing in all aspects, including tourism.

You’ll now find tourists walking around, taking brewery tours and selfies infront of the numerous murals that are painted each year during the annual Pow!Wow! Hawaii street art festival.

Buying in to a better Kaka’ako

When they said “exciting things are happening in Kaka’ako” back in 2014, we believed them. My husband and I, we bought into the hype.
We watched and witnessed developers clear city blocks, parking lots and empty spaces for their vision of a new Kaka’ako; we were eager to be part of this unique, local community. As our new condominium rose from South Street, we relished the moment we would receive our keys and move into our new townhouse at Keauhou Place.
By fall 2017, we were new homeowners, and it was finally – Our Kakaako.

Growing pains in the new neighborhood

However, by the end of 2017, the homeless shuffle began between Kaka’ako Waterfront Park, Mother Waldron Park and various streets within Kaka’ako that border both parks and our new condo. Then, Kakaako Waterfront Park decided to close the park indefinitely, which effectively moved an estimated 200+ homeless people into my neighborhood.
For the first half of 2018 I was happy to live amongst my new neighbors. I taught my children to turn a blind eye, to smile and be kind to everyone you pass. Keep walking – don’t stare. Our new neighbors weren’t here to hurt us or cause any problems, they were just without a home. No judgement, no worries.
Then things changed.
Our days playing and skateboarding at Mother Waldron park started to become unsafe.
  • My 8-year-old son’s skateboard was grabbed by someone at the water fountain.
  • I was approached by a man with a bleeding head asking for money while we ate lunch with the kids on the park table.
  • A person taking a shower near the bathroom swore and scared the bejesus out my son who came crying and running out of the pavilion.
  • I was asked if I wanted to buy drugs while riding my bike past a group of people one evening.
And, the final straw came when were approached by a man with chains wrapped around his hands, wanting to strangle my son and I as we exited our office studio in broad daylight.
Most evenings, from our balcony we hear swearing and endless arguments echoing from across the street. My children pass homeless encampments with uncertainty as they make their way to the grocery store around the corner. We sometimes run from dogs permanently living along Cooke and Halekauwila streets en-route to the farmers market.

Reminiscing on my childhood

I grew up in Kaka’ako.
It was my stomping ground as a child. Royal School was my elementary school. I worked at Lex Brodie’s pumping gas throughout high school. I graduated from McKinley and paddled canoe for Waikiki Surf Club at Ala Moana Beach Park. I recall only one homeless person who roamed Kakaako, and everyone took care of him…this was back in the 1980’s.
It was safe back then.

In search of a solution

Homelessness is a complex issue to tackle. Al Jazeera published an in-depth article about the rise of homelessness in Hawaii — which is due to a number of issues such as the “lack of affordable housing, an epidemic in the use of synthetic drugs, insufficient support for the mentally and physically ill, prisoners discharged without any safety net and people coming to Hawaii with misconceptions about opportunities and then running out of money.”
Majority of my friends can’t even qualify for a home in the ‘new’ Kaka’ako – the cost of housing is too high for the average resident of Hawaii. Instead of having a diverse community with families of various income levels, “rooted in Hawaiian cultural values” —as marketed by the developers — we’re seeing the Kaka’ako we live in to be more homogenous.
I had dreamt one day I would eventually move back to the community I grew up in and share those memories I had with my children.
But the dream to provide a safe community for my children to grow up in, to be kids in seems like it’s nothing more than a vision. We no longer send our children to the grocery store downstairs, to the park or to the parking lot to skateboard for fear that they may be hurt or harassed.
And, for our friends visiting from abroad, we have to warn them to be on guard for the purse snatchings and vehicle break-ins while they walk around our neighborhood and explore the developing street art scene.
A thriving neighborhood fostering connections and rooted in education, authenticity and creativity – that Kaka’ako is not.
But, I would like to see it get there.

Recommended reading & organizations to help end homelessness in Hawaii

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