By Mark Polivka, Chamber of Commerce Hawaii Board of Directors President

February 5, 2019

Recently, the chairwoman of the board and CEO of the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center wrote a column about the potential closing of the center, a gem and a one-of-a-kind interactive museum for our keiki (“Homeless may force center to close,” Island Voices, Star-Advertiser, Jan. 16).

The homeless invasion on the center and its entrance is disturbing. Our keiki are being stripped of an educational experience, visitors are being scared away and employees’ security is being compromised.

While the Children’s Discovery Center is a nonprofit entity, nonprofits have to generally contend with the same pressures as most businesses do, in dealing with customer service and expectations, meeting financial obligations, employee retention and maintaining their place of operation. Moreover, they usually operate within a much narrower profit margin and any negative impact on their operation tends to have a more devastating affect on them.

Last year, when the Hawaii Community Development Authority closed the parks and the parking lots in Kakaako, as well as the streets surrounding the Children’s Discovery Center, there was no parking in the area and no access to the entrance to the center. Therefore, the public believed that the center was shut down.

Businesses, as well as nonprofit organizations, don’t want to appear insensitive to the needs of the homeless community — but at the same time, homelessness is a serious problem affecting the well-being and economic health of our community. Small and mid-sized businesses should not have to grow accustomed to property damage and customer complaints linked to a rising tide of what they deem threatening or criminal street behavior.

Businesses naturally contribute to the solution by providing employment, preventing people from falling into homelessness, creating secure and stable futures that are needed to get lives back on track, volunteer efforts, and monetary and in-kind donations, not to mention giving people hope.

If we want our local business economy to thrive, we shouldn’t accept an approach that merely pushes the problem from one business to another — or from one neighborhood to another. Or, worse, from one sector of government to another.

But it’s not just about the bottom line. It’s about pride — in our neighborhoods, our beaches, parks and our public spaces. It is not just about what others from out of state will think about us, but about how we think of ourselves as a community.

Homelessness is not just a blight on our reputation. It’s a blight on our self-respect and how we perceive who we are. Dealing with the homeless is about who we are.

Is the spirit of aloha simply a banner we fly high for others to see and that shifts with the prevailing wind? Is ohana just a convenient label we can slap onto anything? Or are they substantive values that truly make a difference in our lives?

The Chamber of Commerce Hawaii is committed to working with local businesses, the city and state’s homelessness advocates, the nonprofit community and political leaders to find lasting solutions. We stand ready to do our part.

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