A second homeless shelter will open in February in Kakaako, where three homeless encampments have been allowed to mushroom as city and state officials wrestle with how to handle Oahu’s persistent homeless population — the largest per capita in the nation.
A vacant one-story, 5,000-square-foot landscape maintenance shed owned by the Hawaii Community Development Authority is undergoing $750,000 worth of renovations that will turn it into a temporary shelter for as many as 60 individuals or 15 families at a time, state homeless coordinator Scott Morishige announced Tuesday.
The shelter plans to operate 24 hours a day, and clients are expected to stay no longer than 90 days on their way to longer-term transitional or permanent housing, Gov. David Ige’s office said.
As many as 240 people could use the shelter in a year.
The maintenance shed is next to the University of Hawaii Cancer Center, the same area from which people who were forced out of the notorious “Kakaako makai” homeless encampment last summer merely walked next door to Kakaako Waterfront Park and set up dozens of tents.
While many who lived in Kakaako makai moved into shelters or found temporary or permanent homes, others repeatedly told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that they had no intention of staying in a shelter after being swept out of Kakaako makai.
The new shelter is near Olomehani and Ohe streets, where state Rep. Tom Brower (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana-Kakaako) was beaten while photographing the Kakaako makai encampment that had mushroomed around the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine and Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center.
Kakaako is already home to the Next Step Shelter on the Ewa side of the medical school, and Brower on Tuesday cautiously endorsed the idea of a second shelter for the area that he represents.
“Generally speaking, I would support the idea because we need to house people, give them more shelters, or have a campsite for people,” Brower said. “We want to do our part in our community — Waikiki, Ala Moana, Kakaako — to house those people. But we shouldn’t have too large of a concentration in one area, which is what seems to be happening in Kakaako. It’s a step in the right direction. It’s responsible. But we need to get people off of sidewalks and out of parks.”
Honolulu City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, who represents the area for the city, also offered qualified support.
“I guess we do need temporary (shelter), but I would like to see more movement toward permanent housing,” she said. “Transitional is what it is, transitional. We need permanent housing.”
Ige has frequently mentioned the shed as a possible location for a new shelter in an area where homeless people who were forced out of Kakaako makai currently line the Kakaako shoreline from Kewalo Basin Park to Point Panic to Kakaako Waterfront Park. The largest concentration of homeless people is right next to the new shelter, in Kakaako Waterfront Park’s amphitheater, adjacent to the University of Hawaii Cancer Center.
The HCDA continues to search for a private contractor to clear out all the encampments on its land along the Kakaako shoreline so state sheriff’s deputies can enforce bans on overnight park use. Eight companies already declined to make a bid to do the cleanup work.
Lindsey Doi of the HCDA said no company has yet to make a bid, “but we’re in talks with a few, meaning more than one.”
HCDA is willing to talk with “anyone willing to do this work, anyone familiar with waste disposal,” Doi said.
HCDA owns both the landscape maintenance shed and the land below it and “offered it months ago when the state put out the call ‘for any state agency with land to let us know,’” Doi said. “It’s vacated now. It had decrepit toilets and showers, nothing that people used. We just used it as a storage area for our landscaper’s equipment.”
Ige’s office said that the shelter is expected to operate only for two years once it opens in February.
“Shelters really are a temporary solution,” Morishige said. “In the longer term we’re trying to focus on strategies to get families off of the street and into permanent housing.”
State officials conducted soil testing “and gutted the interior of the building to assess the structural integrity of the shed before making the final site selection,” Ige’s office said. “The site has existing water and sewer infrastructure and is in close proximity to public transportation and social services.”
The Department of Human Services plans to solicit bids in mid-December for a social service agency to provide homeless services for the shelter’s clients. The agency that’s selected will work out of two on-site portable trailers.
Thanks to funding provided through an emergency proclamation that Ige signed, Morishige said three chronically homeless individuals have been taken off of the streets in the last two weeks and moved into separate “Housing First” apartments that don’t require homeless clients to be alcohol- or drug-free while getting so-called “wraparound” social services.
“We’re seeing a lot of positive signs,” Morishige said. “We’re continuing to make progress in dealing with our homeless situation.”