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Pilot program aims to curb panhandling in Kailua Village

A pilot program to divert spare change from panhandlers to nonprofits that assist the homeless and other in need is underway in West Hawaii.

The “Change of Heart” campaign began recently in Kailua Village with a mission to cut down on panhandling in the Kailua Village Business Improvement District, which covers much of the economic heart of Kailua-Kona from Walua Road to Keahuolu Courthouse.

The program, supported by the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce and the Kailua Village Business Improvement District, along with a myriad of Kona-based human-service-focused nonprofits, aims to direct “spare change” from panhandlers to the Hawaii Island United Way.

“Providing vital services to those in need is paramount to creating an island community where we can all thrive and succeed,” said Mayor Mitch Roth in a statement. “By channeling spare change to a proven and trusted nonprofit, we are confident that the money will be better spent and positively impact everyone in the community and not just a select few. This campaign is about seeking long-term solutions and not temporary fixes to addressing the growing inequities on our island.”

Funding for signs came via the County of Hawaii Office of Housing and Community Development with a price tag of $1,533. Installation was performed by county staffers.

The United Way will then reinvest the proceeds into programs and services to assist the homeless and others in need. All funds raised will stay on the Big Island.

The partnership between the Hawaii Island United Way and County of Hawaii will support the following local nonprofits: Hope Services Hawaii, Catholic Charities Hawaii, West Hawaii Community Health Center, 808 Homeless Task Force, and Hawaii Rise Foundation.

“The Change of Heart panhandling campaign will not only educate residents and visitors to direct their donations to Hawaii Island agencies that can help to find solutions, but we’re also excited that the initiative could help to clear the medians of panhandlers and make it safer for everyone,” said Kailua Village Business Improvement District Executive Director Debbie Baker.

Panhandling is not considered illegal in Hawaii County, unless persons taking part in the activity “start to aggressively beg or solicit.”

“Our county prohibits aggressive panhandling per HCC Article 13, Section 14-74,” said Cyrus Johnasen, spokesman for Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth.

With homelessness seemingly more prevalent than ever, Baker urged the public to consider a donation to the campaign rather than handing cash and coins to panhandlers.

“We encourage proactive efforts and solutions from our nonprofit partners versus panhandling as the latter is enabling. No donation to the Change of Heart Initiative is too small,” Baker added.

The signs will be posted at Kuakini Highway’s intersections with Palani Road, Kaiwi Street and Henry Street, as well as at the intersection of Luhia and Kaiwi streets in the Old Kona Industrial Area. On Alii Drive, the signs can be found at the makai route’s intersections with Kahakai Road and Hualalai Road. Signs are also posted at the Henry Street and Malulani Drive and Makala Boulevard and Queen Kaahumanu Highway intersections.

Each includes a quick response (QR) code, a scannable image that quickly takes cellphone users to a website where donations can be made.

If the pilot program is successful, the county will consider expanding the initiative to East Hawaii.

“We will assess community response after a year,” Johnasen said.

Johnasen also said the Hawaii Island United Way will provide an annual report of donations received and distributed to the different agencies and nonprofit organizations.

Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas said she is hopeful the campaign will “inspire a change of heart in the behaviors of kind hearted people who historically give money to panhandlers, and that it wil in turn diminish the prevalence of people panhandling on our streets and roadways.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” she continued.

The community’s response to the pilot program varied on Mayor Mitch Roth’s social media platforms, with some residents offering support, some questioning where taxes paid are currently being used and others calling the effort a PR (public relations) stunt that won’t solve the problem.

“Nice idea, but in reality it will not stop panhandling. An enforced ‘no standing’ law would keep the panhandlers moving and not camping out in the same place hour after hour and day after day,” chimed in Kona resident Joe Bellisario.

For more information, residents are asked to visit hawaiicounty.gov/heart.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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