The last of 25 converted shipping containers has landed at Hawaii’s first homeless “navigation center,” and about one-third of its formerly homeless tenants have moved into transitional homes on a patch of Sand Island, but Mayor Kirk Caldwell wants the new Hale Mauliola project to proceed cautiously.
“This is a test,” Caldwell told reporters Monday. “We’ll modify, we’ll adjust. … This is a first step.”
Caldwell spoke on the site of Hale Mauliola’s last structure yet to be installed: a communal “central hale” dining area that will be made out of a tentlike, pop-up structure where tenants can eat their daily continental breakfast, lunch and dinner that they’re provided.
Families pay rent of $130 per month, and singles are charged $100. But fees are waived if tenants work 20 hours per month.
The goal is to move occupants out of Hale Mauliola and into more permanent housing within 60 days, but that’s also flexible.
By late March, Hale Mauliola expects to reach full capacity of 80 to 90 occupants, plus any pets they might bring.
Since the first occupants started moving in during November, 38 people and their pets have moved in. Six have since moved on to other housing, including one who was flown back home to the mainland.
On Monday 32 residents, such as former Waikiki beachboy Clayton “Uncle Clay” Gohier, 75, were off the street and living in Hale Mauliola.
“I’m so happy to be here,” Gohier said, leaning on his walker. “Down to the janitor, everybody treats you well.”
Three dogs were also at Hale Mauliola on Monday.
For Damien “Uncle Kala” Koanui, 59, having a place to call home and lock up his valuables means everything.
In just under 50 days, life at Hale Mauliola has “given me my dignity back,” Koanui said.
He showed reporters the new Kala mahogany ukulele he won at a Christmas giveaway at Ward Warehouse and played the first tune he’s started learning, called “Happy Me.”
Koanui smiled as he strummed and sang the lyrics, “Everybody knows that I got a happy life. … I’m the original happy me.”
Hale Mauliola is much more than a place for formerly homeless people to live, said Jerry Coffee, clinical director for the Institute for Human Services, which runs it for the city.
As a “navigation center” it offers an on-site housing specialist to help get occupants into long-term housing, a full-time social worker case manager and seven other staff who rotate shifts around the clock.
There are also daily shuttles to take residents to IHS’ homeless shelters in Iwilei, where they can get drug or alcohol counseling, medical treatment and other services.
“It’s an entry point for our homeless in the urban core,” Caldwell said.
Hale Mauliola takes up about 1 of its 4 acres. Caldwell said it could possibly accommodate more converted shipping containers to house even more homeless people. He mentioned the potential for communities of homeless — including Micronesians — who might want to move in together.
But instead of building out Hale Mauliola immediately, Caldwell wants to see whether similar projects should be tried in other neighbor-hoods to help homeless people who often prefer to live close to where they work, attend school or feel more comfortable around familiar faces.
Caldwell said he’s open “to every possible concept.”
For Hale Mauliola, he said, “We want to make sure it’s working before we add to it. … We’re not going to rush.”
The mayor reiterated that Hale Mauliola is one piece of a homelessness strategy that last year resulted in housing for 772 formerly homeless people across Oahu.
The bulk comprised 596 homeless veterans who were helped by the Veterans Administration, U.S. Vets, Catholic Charities and a host of social service agencies working with an Oahu consortium called Partners in Care, said Jun Yang, the city’s executive director of the office of housing.
Even though nearly 600 veterans were housed, the effort fell 51 veterans short of meeting the nationwide “Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness” on Oahu by the end of 2015.
Still, Yang said, “We’re making pretty amazing progress.”
Hale Mauliola also represents the work of “a community effort,” said IHS spokesman Kimo Carvalho.
Outrigger Hotels and Resorts donated bedspreads that were customized by sewing groups, which also used them to make curtains. The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation gave palm trees and planter boxes. The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation provided benches. Homeless children at IHS’ family shelter turned their painted handprints into artwork.
“We can’t end homelessness on our own,” Carvalho said. “It really does take a community.”