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City to convert Iwilei low-rise into hub for homeless


    The city plans to use a four-story building at 431 Kuwili St. in Iwilei for permanent housing as well as a “hygiene center” for the homeless.


    Barbara Yamashita, deputy director of the city Department of Community Services, shows a third-floor room at 431 Kuwili St. in Iwilei that is now used for storage, but is slated to be converted into permanent supportive housing units with running water.

The city plans to turn a four-story industrial building in Iwilei into the first all-in-one homeless project of its kind in the islands that will provide showers, laundry machines, two floors of permanent housing, and social services pertaining to mental illness and alcohol and drug abuse.

The announcement this morning by Mayor Kirk Caldwell comes as Iwilei businesses are complaining about a spike in the area’s homeless population, which they maintain is accompanied by an increase in vandalism and daily deposits of human feces on their doorsteps.

The 43,000-square-foot, 40-year-old building — located just around the corner from homeless squatters in Aala Park and near the Institute for Human Services’ shelters — had been used as a factory for Malihini Sportswear.

Now it’s the city’s newest tool to encourage homeless people to get social service help that could get them off the street.



>> Bathrooms

>> Showers

>> Laundry machines



>> Management for mental and physical health care

>> Counseling

>> Substance abuse treatment

>> Job training and placement



>> Minimum of 35 permanent supportive housing units


Caldwell said the project also spotlights the progress of a pledge of cooperation from state and county governments to reduce the nation’s highest per capita rate of homelessness.

The so-called “hygiene center” is the result of “the marriage of our resources that we both bring to the table,” Caldwell told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Tuesday.

The city spent $6.3 million to buy the property, with the City Council providing $2 million in capital funds and $1 million in operational money to run the hygiene center, Caldwell said.

Gov. David Ige’s latest homeless emergency proclamation will expedite the process to select both a contractor to renovate the building and to pick a service provider to run the hygiene center, Caldwell said.

The state also will provide the necessary mental health services for homeless clients that the city does not offer, he said.

“I’m really, really excited about this,” Caldwell said. “We’re doing it with the state. There’s been a lot of discussion of, ‘Let’s get out of our silos and work together.’ This is a way we come together.”

In a statement, Ige said, “This project underscores the power of the state’s Emergency Proclamation on Homelessness. It is the most recent example of the way the state can facilitate increased efficiency and collaboration. The fifth supplemental emergency proclamation, which I signed on Monday, extends the momentum for another 60 days and enables projects like this one to more rapidly become a reality.”

The city’s only existing hygiene center, which is in Chinatown, opened in March 2015 at a cost of $120,000. The separate men’s and women’s 8-by-12-foot rooms each feature one shower, toilet and sink, and are used every day by an average of 60 to 70 people.

But the hygiene center, on North Pauahi Street, will be dwarfed in both size and scope by the massive hygiene center planned for Iwilei, which will provide 35 studio “Housing First” apartments upstairs where homeless people will get treatment for mental health problems and drug and alcohol abuse.

“We’re going after the hard core,” Caldwell said. “These are people who have been on the street for a long time.”

He called the project “a game-changer. … It really is truly a first of its kind.”

“Homeless folks can come in, use the bathroom, wash your clothes, feel better about yourself,” Caldwell said. “They can get counseling and case management on the second floor and, perhaps, move up and into permanent housing.”

The idea was inspired by a trip to Seattle last year by Council Chairman Ernie Martin and Councilmen Joey Manahan and Trevor Ozawa that followed a reporting trip by the Star-Advertiser to review homeless projects in the Emerald City that might work in the islands.

This week, Manahan had planned to join Council members Carol Fukunaga, Ann Kobayashi and Ron Menor on a follow-up trip to review Seattle’s homeless projects, including hygiene centers and government-sanctioned tent cities.

But Manahan instead will join Caldwell and state officials this morning for a news conference announcing the new hygiene center in his Iwilei district.

Manahan, who has criticized the city’s Chinatown hygiene center as too small and uninviting, welcomed today’s announcement as well as state and city cooperation galvanizing around homelessness.

“I’m happy and I’m proud that we’re opening up the first hygiene center of its kind in Iwilei,” Manahan said. “This is amazing. I want to thank the mayor, the governor and the (City) Council. More than anything, I’m excited about the all-hands-on approach. This project really represents that partnership with the state that we’re going to need to do more of to address homelessness. If we can work through our issues with the state here in Iwilei, then we can do it in Kakaako and anywhere statewide. That’s a huge step in the right direction.”

Manahan said the Iwilei hygiene center “could be a model even at the national level. It’s pretty cutting-edge.”

Caldwell said he’s “anxious to see” what other homeless-related ideas Fukunaga, Kobayashi and Menor might find in Seattle.

The Council funded $2 million for each of the nine council districts to help explore ways to alleviate homelessness and Caldwell said he’s willing to add more money “if there’s a Council member who has a bigger idea. There are common issues and there are some basic models that work. But you see best practices in different jurisdictions.”

Details on the Iwilei hygiene center that still need to be worked out include the floor plan and the number of people who could be served each day.

There is no timetable yet when the renovations will be finished — and the first homeless clients will be able to take a shower.

But Caldwell’s eager to see the first homeless clients being served at the hygiene center. “Everything takes longer than I want it to,” Caldwell said. “I wish it was sooner.”

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