With its small boutiques and mom-and-pop eateries, Wailuku is known for its quaint, small town feel.
But just over a year ago, the community was struggling to find an answer to its homeless problem.
“There could be people camped out, and since this a public area, we’d ask them to move along and sometimes we’d have to call the police,” said Alexis Dascoulias, executive director of the Iao Theater.
Dascoulias and other merchants said on their way to work in the morning, they’d step over homeless people sleeping across storefronts and sidewalks. Trash — and at times human feces — would litter the sidewalks.
The community had several contentious meetings over what to do.
And what they came up stands in sharp contrast to some of the solutions seen on Oahu. With $200,000 in public funds, the county launched “Clean and Sweep,” a program modeled after national efforts that link homeless people up with minimum wage jobs.
As part of the program, retired police officer and Wailuku Clean and Sweep ambassador Lawrence Kauhaahaa helps clients get connected to social services.
Instead of excluding the homeless, he said, the community includes them in their efforts to solve the problem.
“When we talked to them that way, they were really willing to work,” Kauhaahaa said. “A lot of them wanted to work, they were just never offered.”
Daniel Cessac said he and his son Logan jumped from place to place until he got steady work with Clean and Sweep.
“I work here six days a week, so it’s really helping me out to cover my bills,” said Cessac.
“It makes me feel good to help the community, to help clean up and make it a nice clean area,” added Logan.
Merchants say they love it too, now that their storefronts are inviting for visitors — thanks to the homeless who work.
“It’s a win-win because they have a presence,” said Dascoulias. “We know where they are and they seem to take care of things for us.”
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