Nearly a year after Hale Mauliola’s opening, city leaders who once doubted it would work are calling the transitional housing complex a success — and they aim to expand the model to help address widespread homelessness on Oahu.
Some 105 people who’ve stayed in the converted shipping containers on Sand Island since November have found permanent housing elsewhere, officials said Tuesday.
By year’s end they plan to add six more converted containers to the existing 25. That would accommodate 21 more people at the so-called housing “navigation center,” which sits on a state-owned acre of land near where the Polynesian Voyaging Society docks its traditional sailing canoes.
Currently, Hale Mauliola’s 63 pastel-colored units accommodate up to 83 adults, who live there as couples or singles.
“This facility really has been a game-changer for us,” said Kimo Carvalho, community relations director for the Institute for Human Services, which partners with the city to run Hale Mauliola.
The facility’s less stringent requirements have contributed to the success so far, Carvalho and others said. Clients don’t have a curfew and can house their pets there, for example. They also have a spectrum of housing options from city, state and federal services, Carvalho added.
The city is looking at other sites for similar “containerized” transitional housing but hasn’t specified anything yet, Mayor Kirk Caldwell said. More sites like Hale Mauliola would certainly be useful, city Housing Office Executive Director Jun Yang said.
“Our homeless clients need more help,” Yang said Tuesday. “Places like this would help them find housing. The demand is there.”
Nonetheless, Oahu still faces greater, long-term challenges of where to eventually house the bulk of its homeless residents. This year’s point-in-time count found the island’s homeless population grew by about 1 percent to 4,940. Statewide, Hawaii has been found to have the largest homeless population per capita in the nation.
Meanwhile, Oahu requires some 20,000 additional affordable rental units to keep up with its overall housing needs, based on official estimates. “We have such a tight market here” for housing, Yang noted Tuesday.
“It’s certainly exceeding my expectations, our expectations as a city,” City Councilman Joey Manahan said Tuesday of Hale Mauliola. Previously, Manahan, whose district includes Sand Island, had expressed opposition to the facility, saying it lacked a clear strategy to put homeless residents into permanent housing.
In April he told Hawaii News Now that he would prefer the city allow homeless to live in their cars on the property instead of in shipping containers. On Tuesday he said Hale Mauliola is at the “forefront” compared with similar facilities around the U.S.
Caldwell lauded Manahan’s “political courage” in eventually supporting Hale Mauliola.
“Many, many people — including, I have to say, me, as mayor — questioned whether this navigation center would work,” Caldwell said Tuesday. “We wanted to see what would happen.”
Hale Mauliola client Al Saenz said he’s confident he’ll find a permanent home after relocating there from Kakaako Waterfront Park about a month and a half ago. The navigation center’s staff, he said, is helping him to replace his state identification and other paperwork after he lost it during city sweeps to enforce Honolulu’s sit-lie ban on sidewalks.
“I know the difference between the other shelters and this one, and this one’s really working,” he said. “It’s more flexible for the people. It’s going to work.”
The facility’s lease with the state expires September 2018. City officials already say they’ll pursue an extension.