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Next step for isle’s homeless

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Workers on Friday set up the first two of 25 shipping-container shelters for the homeless at the Hale Mauliola project on Sand Island.
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Following this week’s successful cleanup of the Kakaako homeless encampment, city and state officials are embarking on a new approach to getting people off the streets of an island state with the highest per capita rate of homelessness in the country.

City crews installed the first two shipping containers Friday for what will be a first-of-its-kind temporary homeless shelter on an acre of state-owned land on Sand Island.

By the end of the year, the 25-container Hale Mauliola project is expected to house 80 to 90 adults and pets, which are not allowed in traditional shelters and serve as one reason homeless pet owners remain on the streets.

Also Friday, Gov. David Ige reconvened his Governor’s Leadership Team on Homelessness and announced a series of new initiatives, including an emergency proclamation that both extends and expands the efforts of social service providers while putting them on notice that their performance is being evaluated.

Following the cleanup of the Kakaako encampment this week, Ige said at a Capitol press conference, “We have come to the end of what we can do with our existing contracts” with social service agencies.

Scott Morishige, Hawaii’s homeless coordinator, said $1.3 million has been identified to expand social service outreach for another year while the state begins reviewing its existing contracts and the performances of social service agencies.

Ige’s office said that the $1.3 million also will help fund a new transitional homeless facility and “will serve an additional 1,000 homeless individuals between now and July 31.”

“There’s still much work to do,” Morishige said. “Hawaii has the highest rate of homelessness per capita among the 50 states, with an estimated 465 homeless individuals per 100,000. The alarming increase in unsheltered individuals and families over the past two years is particularly significant on Oahu.”

The last “point in time count” conducted in January found that 4,900 people were homeless on Oahu.

In addition, Ige on Friday announced a partnership with the Hawaii Association of Realtors that he hopes will result in more private landlords renting fair-market-value apartments to homeless people using a concept called “Housing First.”

A summit will be held with Hawaii landlords sometime before the end of the year to encourage them to accept homeless people with housing vouchers.

The summit will include information about the protections landlords will receive, along with incentives for renting to people who might have drug or alcohol addictions and even mental health problems.

The outreach to private landlords follows successful government-backed efforts in cities such as Seattle and Salt Lake City that have proved it’s cheaper and more effective to put homeless people into homes before addressing their addictions and other issues.

“There’s a lot of misinformation, a lot of misunderstanding,” Morishige said.

Ige said the cleanup of the Kakaako encampment bolstered “best practices” ideas among city and state officials now setting their sights on homeless populations in Waianae, Waipahu and Waimanalo.

Over the course of the Kakaako sweep that began Sept. 8, more than half of the 293 people who were counted during an August census or 158 people including 25 families ended up in homeless shelters or permanent housing, Ige said.

The census was part of a “data-driven process” that Ige now plans to apply to Waianae, Waipahu and Waimanalo.

The Kakaako cleanup worked because of cooperation among city, state and federal officials, social service providers and private landowners throughout Kakaako, Ige said.

Standing by Ige’s side Friday was the city’s managing director, Roy Amemiya, who called the Kakaako cleanup “just the first step in this statewide crisis.”

Morishige said the execution of the Kakaako cleanup represents “a model we hope to replicate across every county in the state.”

The August census also found that 20 percent of the Kakaako occupants were Micronesian migrants here under the Compact of Free Association resulting from U.S. atomic testing on their islands.

Ige said he has met with officials in the Marshall Islands and throughout the Federated States of Micronesia to see whether they can better inform COFA migrants about the realities of life in Hawaii so they don’t end up homeless.

While some 54 percent of the Kakaako homeless moved into shelters or other housing, Ige acknowledged that many remain on the streets.

“We do know some of them have moved into other parks in Kakaako,” Ige said.

He called Hawaii’s homeless situation “a crisis.”

The state continues to consider four possible sites for future homeless housing projects: on Office of Hawaiian Affairs land across from the Next Step shelter in Kakaako; at Liliha Civic Center; on Nimitz Highway at Pier 38; and at a maintenance shed in Kakaako owned by the Hawaii Community Development Association.

At the same time, the city has asked social service providers to submit proposals on what kind of homeless housing projects they would run if the city buys a three-story building on Kuwili Street.

In its “Request for Information,” the city solicited proposals “to develop new projects and plans of action to address homelessness.”

The city also continues to be interested in replicating two popular programs in San Francisco that do not take anyone off of the streets, but do rid sidewalks of urine, feces and needles.

One project operated by a nonprofit group called Lava Mae takes old San Francisco “Muni” buses and converts them into portable showers and toilets for homeless people.

The other, called the “San Francisco Pit Stop,” tows pairs of flushable toilets and sinks into tourist and homeless centers. The Pit Stops are staffed by employees, who are often homeless themselves, who clean up after each use and knock on the door after five minutes to ensure that nothing inappropriate is going on inside.

The employees have proved key to the success of the Pit Stop in San Francisco. The program has encouraged use by tourists and women, in particular, according to officials in San Francisco.

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