The city is taking a new, more lenient approach to encourage homeless people to leave the streets and move into temporary and long-term housing projects that will open over the next several months.
None of the more than $20 million worth of projects — in areas from Makiki to the Leeward Coast — will be ready when the city starts clearing the first of an estimated 300 homeless people out of an expanding Kakaako homeless encampment next month. Only one — the 87-bed Hale Mauliola “modular container” project on Sand Island Access Road — is scheduled to open this year, sometime in the fall.
But when they do open, most of the new shelters will take in pets, allow people to stay indoors during the day, give them a place to secure their belongings and offer security and on-site social services, said Sandy Pfund, head of the city’s new Office of Strategic Development.
“We’ve been listening very carefully to the homeless and social service providers to discern issues that are making barriers to staying in shelters,” Pfund said. “We’re trying to address a lot of the conditions that homeless people talk about.”
At encampments all around the island, homeless people repeatedly explain to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser why shelter beds remain unoccupied: The homeless are forced to go somewhere during the day when the shelters are cleaned; personal belongings often disappear or are stolen; and many refuse to leave their pets — usually dogs — behind just so they can sleep in a shelter at night.
The mothers of the two teenage boys who state Rep. Tom Brower said led a mob attack against him at the Kakaako encampment June 29 told the Star-Advertiser that they gave up on the nearby Next Step Shelter, in part because they had to take their families somewhere during the day.
So Agnes Totoa and Rose Pu’u said they simply moved their families into nearby tarps and tents on Ohe Street directly behind the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center, where unleashed dogs constantly run around the encampment
Leaving pets behind often represents a deal breaker for homeless people to enter a shelter, said Scott Morishige, executive director of PHOCUSED (Protecting Hawaii’s Ohana Children, Under-Served Elderly and Disabled), which is working with people living in the Kakaako homeless encampment.
“A lot of people have a pet because it gives them a sense of safety and security while they’re unsheltered, and over time they develop a relationship. It’s very difficult to sever that relationship,” Morishige said. “It can be hard for a lot of people to make that transition (out of homelessness). During that time you want something that gives you that added sense of security and safety.”
City Office of Strategic Development
City Councilwoman Kymberly Pine volunteered to work at the U.S. Vets homeless shelter in Kalaeloa for about three years in the mid-2000s to see whether her perception that homeless people are “lazy” was true.
“Boy, was I wrong,” Pine said. “I really had a lot to learn about their issues. There was a sincere desire to get out of their situations and be productive in society because they no longer believe in themselves.”
Pine served food, raised money, went along on outings and did a variety of tasks, “but I never cleaned the toilets,” she joked.
Pine has criticized the city’s “sit-lie” ban that helped clean up places such as Waikiki but inadvertently helped fuel the expansion of the Kakaako encampment and created a new one across from Market City Shopping Center.
But Pine applauds the city’s effort to build and buy new temporary and long-term housing that will address many of the issues that keep homeless people out of shelters.
In particular, Pine said, homeless people need to be able to lock up their possessions “so they can go out and look for a job — or go get mental health treatment,” she said. “These are their life possessions. And there has to be security. Having a place that’s secure and safe will encourage people to move there and get the help that they need.”
The city is also looking to build or buy units around the island to attract homeless people already camping in those areas, which Morishige said is critical to help them be successful.
He said one homeless family had to make five bus transfers to get a child to school every morning.
“If the place you’re living at is far away in a remote area or far from bus lines, it makes it difficult to maintain employment and show up for work on time,” he said.
Brower, the state lawmaker attacked in Kakaako last month, likes the city’s new, relaxed approach to attract more homeless people into upcoming housing with rules “that are practical.”
“Solving the broad picture of homelessness is much easier than we’re making it out to be,” he said. “Don’t overthink it. We need to take care of people today. So the rules should be eased in the beginning to get people in and get them the help they need. If that doesn’t work, then tighten up the rules as problems arise.”
Planned shelter locations
» Hale Mauliola, Sand Island Access Road: 87 beds, including 39 individual and 24 couple units in a total of 25 modular structures. Cost is approximately $500,000 for residential container module and site prep. The state is providing the land to the city for three years rent-free. Estimated completion: fall 2015.
» Waianae modular project, 86-537 Halona Road: $350,000 including site prep and purchase of modules. Container/module bid is still pending, therefore the exact cost is uncertain. Approximately 12 beds in three units for families. Estimated completion: first quarter of 2016.
» Two locations in Waianae on land owned by Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp.: Cost is estimated at $1 million to construct 12 modular units and hook them up to utilities. Approximately 50 beds for families. Estimated completion: first quarter of 2016.
» Unspecified 1-acre location on Leeward Coast: $1.25 million, including site work for 100 beds in 16 modules. Estimated completion: first quarter of 2016.
» Various unspecified areas in Makiki: Estimated $7 million, no contract yet. One site has been identified that could hold 125 beds if done dorm style, or fewer if converted to individual units. Estimated opening: first quarter 2016.
» Iwilei property, 431 Kuwili Street: $6.35 million to purchase plus $1 million for renovations, for 150-188 beds in 134 units. Estimated completion: second quarter of 2016.
» Winston Hale, River Street, Chinatown: $1.7 million for the repairs to existing units plus $800,000 to create an additional nine micro-units in the current commercial spaces. Would result in single units with 35 new beds. Estimated completion: first quarter of 2016.
» Halewaiolu senior housing, River Street, Chinatown: No cost to the city, resulting in 225 beds in 150 affordable senior rental units. The city will enter a 65-year ground lease for nominal rent in return for planning, design, construction and financing of the building by the developer. The investment by Michaels Development and estimated construction cost is about $48 million. Estimated completion: 2018.