This is one of many stories told by students
at HPU on a daily basis—stories of midterms, stress,
and bums. Fort Street Mall, a city-owned-and-operated park,
is also home to the largest student population at HPU. A stigma
has hung ominously over the area for years. In 1999, the Honolulu
Advertiser published an editorial calling the mall a neglected
and forgotten “slum.” What steps have been taken
to clean up the “campus,” to make it a safe environment
Over the years, the homeless situation on Fort Street Mall was
much, much more pronounced than it is now,” said HPU Vice
President Rick Stepien, who has been with the university since
1990. He says he’s seen “remarkable” improvement
in the general condition of the mall over the past three years,
and he credits HPU President Chatt Wright and the Business Improvement
District (BID) board for it.
“When I first started with the BID, I saw pictures of homeless bathing
in the fountains,” said Caroline Kim of the BID. Kim has been working on
the BID for almost a year and said the mall “still has issues.”
Stepien said the University has been pushing for years to make
the mall as “vibrant
and accommodating” as other portions of downtown. The fact is, Fort Street
is a public thoroughfare where HPU has no jurisdiction.
But Kim said that sometimes the city is just too bogged down
and understaffed to notice that problems exist. “Sometimes they need someone to nudge them,
or it’s not going to happen,” said Kim. Her constant calls finally
got the city to wash HPU’s portion of the mall with hot-water pressure
on April 16. “How quickly they respond to our concerns—sometimes
I just can’t tell,” she said.
Other factors have prevented the mall’s improvement. In 2002, HPU and nearby
St. Andrew’s Priory, according to a Honolulu Advertiser article by Beverly
Creamer, had qualms about a social services office for sex offenders opening
on or around the mall.
At the time, the Club House, a state-run social service facility,
was located where the HPU Sea Warrior Student Center now
is. Safe Haven, a facility for
the homeless and addicted, was and still is located near HPU. President Wright
concerns about both: “These things were not in the environment” when
HPU moved to upper Fort Street Mall, he told the Honolulu Advertiser.
not against the agencies’ work, but we can’t have our people
victimized by it,” he added.
The Club House has since disappeared, but other social service agencies
you have a place that services the homeless, the mentally ill, the down of their
luck, it’s an attraction for them because they want access to the services,” said
Stepien. “Should the services be in the middle of the business district?
That’s the burning question,” he added.
Kim wonders if that section of the mall would have the stigma
it currently does if the services weren’t located so close to HPU. In 2002, the BID successfully
had benches removed on Fort Street to prevent the homeless from settling in the
area. The BID was hit hard with criticism from advocates for the homeless. “We
became the insensitive, terrible land owners—and we’re not,” she
But as the benches came back, so did the
homeless. HPU and the BID soon took action to combat the growing
BID began to establish open
and umbrellas lining store fronts, and additional security—the idea
being if the ambiance improves, the characters on the mall will too. Stepien
currently spends one quarter of a million dollars a year on visible security
on the mall and in buildings.
Our guards, by virtue of having a uniform on, help people move on. They don’t
like that sign of authority. So people who have no business here move on,” Stepien
“The mall isn’t as spiffy as possible,” said Kim admitting
things could be much better. However, with the no jurisdiction on
the mall, both the BID and HPU are slaves to the city. A possible and rarely
has always been privatization.
Stepien says the subject has come up, and HPU is open to ideas.
Kim says she heard little to no talk about privatizing the mall,
also doesn’t rule
it out. “It’s something the BID should consider, that I think would
benefit the culture of the entire street,” she said.
Still, Kim says, the disadvantages of privatization may out
weigh the advantages. “Would
the building owners be willing to do it, and could they cover the basic services
needed to maintain the mall on their own?” she asked. At this
time there are no plans for privatization.
President Wright told the Honolulu Advertiser he is committed
to the downtown area if the city is: “If the downtown area is going to resume its improvement,
then we want to have a positive stake,” he said. “If it isn’t,
we have other options for the University’s future.”
Kim said she is committed to making the mall safe not only
for the businesses but also the students: “We’re trying to change the environment, and
I believe it will change,” she said.
Stepien said he’s optimistic about the mall’s future and added, “We’d
really like to see this take on the ambiance of a college campus.”