The Institute for Human Services is expected to open the city’s transitional homeless housing center on Sand Island by the fall, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and service providers said Thursday.
It will provide housing for up to 87 people at a time — 39 individuals and 24 couples — as on-site social workers help them seek more permanent settings and deal with other problems they might have, such as substance addiction or mental illness.
The city’s initial request for proposals, which called for housing only individuals, was changed in response to suggestions from the public, Caldwell said. “There are units for individuals, there are units for couples, and if that works we’ll be looking to open it up to families with children, too.”
The $850,000 contract calls for IHS, Oahu’s largest homeless services provider, to operate and manage the one-year pilot program at what’s being called Hale Mauliola. The nonprofit group will coordinate case management, supportive services and referrals to housing and shelter. Helping Hands Hawaii will serve as a partner to help clients find permanent shelter.
The contractor that will provide the modular units, which may be made out of shipping containers, will be announced Wednesday.
Additionally, IHS was awarded $500,000 to oversee a broad-spectrum community assistance program aimed at providing a host of other services to the chronically homeless — those who have long been homeless and often are saddled with problems that prevent them from entering traditional shelters. The program will focus on homeless people in Kalihi, Palama, Kapalama, Iwilei and downtown/Chinatown. Partnering with Mental Health Kokua and its Safe Haven program, IHS intends to establish a group home that will provide “bridge housing” to about a dozen people with severe and persistent mental illness.
The program’s funding will also be used to help St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church and the recently formed We Are Oceania foundation offer services such as family case management and language interpretation services to homeless from the Compact of Free Association nation communities, including Micronesians and Marshallese. Also, the group Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii will help with matters such as issuing identification cards, clearing bench warrants and other court-related issues.
In addition, through a community assistance program, IHS will offer short-term rental assistance of up to six months to homeless households making the transition into permanent housing, an initiative expected to serve at least 50 households.
City officials said after the news conference that IHS was the only party to submit proposals for both solicitations.
Caldwell described the Sand Island site as neither a homeless shelter nor roof-over-the-head Housing First units.
“It’s a hybrid of that,” he said. “We’re going to provide beautiful homes, with privacy and the ability to lock the door and be safe — but also have wraparound services, and restrooms, and a place to gather to be taken care of — and then put into different programs based on need.”
The concept is an upgrade from the homeless villages attempted in previous decades because of the support and presence of social service providers, the mayor said.
Connie Mitchell, IHS executive director, also said there will be benefits at Sand Island that are typically not at a homeless shelter.
“There’s definitely a very different vision for this place,” Mitchell said after the news conference. “This is not another emergency shelter the way we know it. This is a very different option.”
Existing IHS programs and partnerships helped when it came time to put together the Sand Island proposal, Mitchell said.
While opponents contend that the Sand Island site is too far from the various services the homeless need, Mitchell said shuttle services will be provided “at least twice a day,” more often if finances allow.
Officials with the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and PHOCUSED, Protecting Hawaii’s Ohana, Children, Under-Served, Elderly and Disabled, have called for Caldwell to abandon the Sand Island plan and to instead offer more “shallow subsidies” to working families who might simply need a few hundred more dollars a month to pay the rent.
City Councilman Joey Manahan, whose district includes Sand Island and the Kapalama Canal neighborhood, where the homeless population is growing, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in a phone interview that the Sand Island project offers too little bang for the buck.
“If we’re going to keep addressing the issue 75-100 people at a time, we’re never going to solve the problem,” Manahan said. “I think we can do better.”
Manahan and Council Chairman Ernie Martin want the administration to consider taking over the Hilo Hattie facility on Nimitz Highway, where they envision a broader net of services and a greater number of people being helped. The administration has said it is looking at the idea.
Manahan said he’s worried that the Sand Island site will turn into a permanent homeless shelter. “That’s precisely my fear, that these encampments are becoming the new housing because there is no housing.”
Council members have also criticized the administration for what they call foot-dragging on spending $32 million they put into last year’s budget to build housing for the homeless.
But not all Council members disagree with the mayor. Council Public Safety Chairman Ron Menor said “the vast majority of our constituents” support the Sand Island plan as part of the solution.