From the block-by-block clearing in Kakaako makai to the installing of a major fence along Kapalama Canal, the landscape is changing quickly for Honolulu’s homeless.
And their options are diminishing. At least for now.
Work is proceeding on the much-anticipated Hale Mauliola transitional modular housing center, but it is not expected to begin operations until late November.
So where are the folks leaving Kakaako and Kapalama going?
An Aug. 3 census counted 293 people living on Kakaako makai sidewalks.
Since Sept. 8 dozens have been rousted from their camps along the sidewalks of four Kakaako makai blocks between Ala Moana Boulevard and Ilalo Street. The city Department of Facility Maintenance is scheduled to conduct enforcement of the sidewalk nuisance and stored property ordinances this week, also along the corridor between Ala Moana Boulevard and Ilalo Street.
Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless concerns coordinator, said that since Aug. 7 the Governor’s Leadership Team on Homelessness has placed 90 people from the Kakaako homeless area into shelters or more permanent housing. That’s about 30 percent of those living in the area, he said.
They have gone to the Institute for Human Services and Next Step shelters in urban Honolulu, as well as the Lighthouse Outreach shelter in Waipahu, the Kealahou West Oahu shelter in Kalaeloa and the U.S. Vets civic center shelter in Waianae.
“We’re continually, every week, seeing more people going into shelter due to the outreach that the service providers are doing in that area,” Morishige said.
Yet to be swept is the area makai of Ilalo Street, including Ohe, Olomehani and Ahui streets, where the largest population of homeless has gathered.
Tabatha Martin, the main plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit challenging the city’s enforcement of the sidewalk ordinances, said last week that many of those who have been swept from the blocks already cleared have been moving makai of Ilalo Street. Martin said that her family and their neighbors have been making way for those being displaced.
Martin said she’s not sure what she, her husband and their 4-year-old daughter will do when the city removes them from their encampment.
“We don’t really have a set plan,” she said, insisting that all shelter spaces for families are taken.
Jun Yang, executive director of the city Office of Housing, said the city and state have been working closely with homeless shelters and service providers to ensure there is enough space before each of the city’s sidewalk enforcement actions is undertaken in Kakaako.
Federal judges on the mainland have been issuing rulings stating that sidewalk laws aimed at removing the homeless should be accompanied by adequate shelter space.
“The city is coordinating with the state to ensure we have the shelter space availability as the organizations involved in the enforcement efforts in Kakaako move forward,” Yang said.
City Facility Maintenance Director Ross Sasamura said he expects five more actions in Kakaako in the coming weeks, including the three this week.
In the Kalihi district as many as 100 homeless people had been camping along Kapalama Canal, primarily along Kohou Street between Dillingham Boulevard and North King streets.
But since the city put up a fence along Kohou Street about two weeks ago, practically all of those living there have scattered elsewhere.
Officials with the Kalihi-Palama Health Center said their outreach workers have helped at least four families and four individuals relocate into the IHS and Next Step shelters, as well as the Waipahu Lighthouse shelter and the Onemalu transitional shelter in Kapolei.
Others who declined help appear to have scattered to other sections of Kalihi, including along nearby Kaumualii Street, along Nimitz Highway under the H-1 viaduct, and near the Sand Island Boat Harbor, they said.
Darrin Sato, Kalihi-Palama chief operations officer, said the agency staff is still trying to locate others who left the canal.
The hope is that many of those who remain unhoused, especially the singles, will give the city’s Hale Mauliola transitional center at Sand Island a try.
“The difficulty is always that not all of them want to go into a shelter or into a transitional place because of the rules,” Sato said. “All we can do is continue to encourage them to go.”
Some don’t want to leave their pets, others don’t want to live under a curfew, some don’t want to pay a monthly fee and others on drugs “just don’t want to be there,” he said.
Some won’t go into traditional shelters because of the crowded living conditions and the prospect of sleeping in a room with 30 other people.
The 87-bed Hale Mauliola’s transitional village, comprised of 63 units in 25 20-foot shipping containers on a vacant parcel on Sand Island just past the bridge, is supposed to ease many of those anxieties.
IHS, the state’s largest homeless shelter provider, was given an $850,000 contract to operate the center for one year. The first nine units will be delivered by vendor Container Storage Co. of Hawaii in October and be available for the first guests about a month later.
Connie Mitchell, IHS executive director, said Hale Mauliola is designed to be halfway between a homeless shelter and a permanent housing unit.
“We’re really trying to make this a welcoming place,” she said, adding that applications are already being accepted at both IHS shelters.
Rooms will house one or two individuals and can be locked up for security purposes. Pets will be allowed and there will be no curfews. But drugs and weapons won’t be tolerated, and smoking will be OK only in designated areas, Mitchell said.
IHS is supplying beds and will manage a common area where people can eat three meals a day and access various support services. A shuttle bus will run between the center, IHS and downtown Honolulu at least three times a day, Mitchell said. A yet-to-be-determined program fee will be charged, with income determining how much a person will pay.
Chris Thometz, sales and marketing director for Container Storage Co. of Hawaii, proudly showed off the first two containers now being retrofitted to meet Hale Mauliola’s needs. One, divided into two units, will house couples. The other, divided into three units, will house three individuals.
Insulation separating the roofs from the ceilings of the containers, combined with a cross-breeze through sliding windows and screen doors, will cut temperatures by up to 20 degrees, Thometz said.
“If you think about the conditions they’re living in now, with a tent in the sun, there’s no way this is going to be anything but a hell of an improvement,” he said. “We’re really concerned that this be comfortable for people, give them dignity — which I think it does — is secure and gives them their own private space. It’s not the Kahala Hilton, but hey, that’s not what we’re up for. We’re up for providing security, stability and a place where they’re at least going to be dry.”
Reaction has been mixed.
Sato, from Kalihi-Palama Health, said “anything right now is a good alternative” to sleeping on sidewalks. But more needs to be done, he said.
Kathryn Xian, executive director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery and an advocate for the homeless, has opposed the Sand Island project on a number of levels. Among her major criticisms is that Hale Mauliola was not designed for families.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration has focused much of its attention on finding housing opportunities for the chronically homeless, who typically are single and have long-term problems such as substance abuse or mental illness.
That mindset fails to consider that much of Hawaii’s homeless population today consists of families, including those with young children, Xian said. A majority of the newly homeless do not have mental illness or substance abuse issues, but are “regular local folks who just can’t make ends meet,” she said.
Mitchell, prior to IHS’ selection to manage Hale Mauliola, raised similar points about opening the site to families in a Honolulu Star-Advertiser op-ed piece.
Caldwell has said that once the shelter opens up, the city might consider putting families there.
Mitchell said “if the city changes its mind, we’re fine with that.”
State and city homeless officials have countered that they are working on plans for additional, permanent housing solutions for families and singles that they are not yet ready to announce.