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Hawaii News

Rides to shelters help clear homeless off Honolulu sidewalks

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / MAY 22

    Kakaako homeless move back to Mother Waldron Park.

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Providing homeless people with rides to shelters played a key role in a new effort that got 56 people from Waikiki to Chinatown off of the streets between April 4 and June 13.

City and state officials, Honolulu police and social service workers since April have been conducting homeless outreach operations, working mostly at night and with better coordination between shelters and agencies, including substance abuse treatment centers. They also have been providing immediate transportation for anyone who agrees to get off the street, said Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator.

In the past, social service workers typically provided a bus pass or taxi voucher, and hoped those who had agreed to leave the streets would show up.

“There weren’t always resources provided to immediately get people from Point A to Point B,” Morishige said.

Around the city’s Mother Waldron Neighborhood Park in Kakaako — a recent hot spot for homeless complaints — 17 of the estimated 40 or so homeless people were convinced to move into shelters on May 25 and again on May 29.

RECENT HOMELESS OUTREACH EFFORTS

>> April 4: Downtown/state Capitol District — Seven homeless people moved into shelters
>> May 16: Chinatown — 15 homeless people moved into shelters
>> May 25 and 29: Mother Waldron Neighborhood Park in Kakaako — 17 people moved into shelters
>> June 13: Ala Moana Park, Waikiki and Old Stadium Park — 17 people moved into shelters and one admitted to The Queen’s Medical Center
>> May to June: Nimitz Highway in Iwilei, Kamehameha Highway in Pearl City and the Nimitz Viaduct area — 13 people move into shelters

Source: City Department of Housing and Governor’s Coordinator on Homelessness

Across the park at ABC Stores corporate headquarters on Cooke Street, employees going into work each morning had to sidestep feces left behind when homeless people moved back into Mother Waldron.

Since many homeless have now left, ABC Stores president and CEO Paul Kosasa said, “so far so good. Social workers came out and it just gradually got less and less and some of them did go to shelters. I understood that it does take time.”

While Cooke Street remains clear in front of Kosasa’s offices, those who chose not to go into shelters only set up new encampments on Queen and Keawe streets.

“Unfortunately, I think they just moved a couple blocks away,” Kosasa said.

The outreach teams plan to take what they learned and likely move into homeless encampments on the Windward side, although there are no specific dates, said Marc Alexander, executive director of the city’s Office of Housing.

Since April, the new outreach efforts showed that “when people are ready to go we need transportation right away,” Alexander said. “If they wait around too long they get antsy and go away.”

On May 16, plainclothes Honolulu police officers from HPD’s new H.E.L.P. (Honolulu Homeless Outreach Program) used three HPD vehicles to drive people from Chinatown to the Waianae Civic Center shelter, Alexander said.

On June 13, Alexander used a city van to take two people and their dog to the Waianae Civic Center during outreach efforts in Ala Moana Park, Waikiki and Old Stadium Park that got 18 people into shelters, including one who was hospitalized at The Queen’s Medical Center.

By the last effort on June 13, the city provided a 40-foot bus to take most of the people to shelters in town.

The new approach has been led by the state Department of Human Services and Kalihi-Palama Health Center, Alexander said.

“The key was this coordinated, focused inter-agency outreach combined with transportation,” Alexander said. “We would have gotten more people if we had more transportation available.”

Transportation will be particularly critical when the homeless outreach moves into a new phase out of town and into areas that don’t have homeless shelters nearby, Alexander said.

The next effort could begin as early as next month, Morishige said.

“It’s doing the things we know work: Making sure you take time in building relationships (with homeless people), making sure you provide a range of options, including mental health treatment and drug rehabilitation,” Morishige said. “We see the proof in the results and we’re getting an increasing number of people out of encampments that have been there for years.”

A separate effort over the past month by the state Department of Transportation saw another 13 homeless people move into shelters, including a woman placed in a domestic violence shelter, from state DOT land in places such as Nimitz Highway in Iwilei, Kamehameha Highway in Pearl City and the Nimitz viaduct.

The homeless outreach efforts combined to get 69 people out of some of the most entrenched homeless encampments across Oahu.

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