Addressing crime, mental health and workforce challenges are a few of Katie Kaahanui’s passions.

These passions flow into her role as executive coordinator of the Safe and Sound Waikiki program – which she’s held since August 2023 – within the Waikiki Business Improvement District Association, a nonprofit dedicated “to making Waikiki a great place in which to invest, work, live and play,” per its website.

“The work we’re doing with Safe and Sound is overseeing a new concept we’re piloting with [Honolulu Police Department, the Mayor’s Office], the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney, [The Institute for Human Services, Inc.] and the Waikiki business community to reduce crime and amplify swift mental health support for repeat offenders so they can step out of crime for good – that’s the goal,” Kaahanui told Pacific Business News. “My role is to work with all stakeholders to make sure we have a really coordinated approach to how we make Waikiki safer. The overall goal is to decrease crime and increase community engagement.”

The program is currently backed by the City & County of Honolulu and Kosasa Foundation, she said, adding that corporate donations and other grants could help sustain funding in the future.

Since November, the Safe and Sound program’s outreach services in conjunction with IHS has helped 120 people – 14 of whom were placed into housing and four of whom received on-the-spot medication for severe mental health issues. Crime in the Waikiki district also decreased in the following metrics:

  • Robbery down by 35%
  • Burglary down by 32%
  • Car break-ins down by 31%
  • Criminal property damage down by 27%
  • Theft down by 6%
  • Assault down by 4%

“We’re about a year and a half in but have seen measurable success that I would like to someday scale to other communities as well.” Kaahanui said. “Our second year will be exciting as we look to increase the number of people we impact.”

PBN spoke with Kaahanui to learn more about plans for growth and how the business community can get involved.

Who do you serve? Our client base is primarily local, chronically houseless individuals in the Waikiki district, with a mix of some tourists. Ultimately, we’re here to serve the business community in Waikiki and make sure their areas are safe for them and their guests to thrive. They can contact me anytime if they have questions or would like to get involved with the Safe and Sound initiative.

How can local businesses get involved? We are looking in this new year to create a Safe and Sound committee and we also have stakeholder meetings to collaborate and share what we can do to grow the initiative. Currently, we have Waikiki hotels and other business partners in that group, but we’re always looking for more.

What are you working on now to bolster future growth? Going into the second year of the Safe and Sound Waikiki program, we want to increase medical and community partners. I’d love to expand to re-entry and employment services and get more involved with the youth, particularly at the three schools in our district.

What is the most rewarding part of your job? It’s rewarding for me to see somebody’s progression to health from when we first interact with them to the point where they can be independently successful on their own. Additionally, it’s been fulfilling to have such a close line of communication with our police, the city and prosecutors, which is also a unique part of our concept – usually we’re all operating in our silos.

Who is a mentor to you? My former boss at Chamber of Commerce Hawaii Sherry Menor-McNamara. Sherry lives by example when it comes to actualizing a goal or pursuing a new idea – no matter how scary – that really lights you up inside. She has always been supportive and encouraging of my own passions, and one of my favorite initiatives that came to life was hosting the Chamber’s Mental Health Awareness podcast series, which she wholeheartedly supported from the start.