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City projects mark 1 year of housing homeless families


    Shyla Taifane holds a picture of her 5-year-old son, Solomon, at her apartment in a city-owned building on Beretania Street that aims to provide permanent housing for homeless working families. Taifane was previously living in a domestic violence shelter with her son. She is now married and works at Kalihi-Palama health center helping clients like herself.


    Shyla Taifane who had lived in a shelter with her infant son. She is now working and married and has been living in the Housing First apartment for a year.

While state sheriff’s deputies swept more than 300 chronically homeless people from state land in Kakaako and below the H-1 freeway viaduct this month, the city quietly marked the first anniversary of two housing projects — one in Waianae and one in town — that provide permanent housing for homeless families.

Shyla Taifane, 30, had been living in a domestic violence shelter with her 5-year-old son when she heard about the 24-unit apartment building that the city bought last year on Beretania Street, across from Central Union Church, for $6.9 million.

Taifane’s social service case worker told her the project was aimed at homeless families with children who could pay the $942 monthly rent for a one- bedroom apartment, or $1,131 for a two-bedroom unit.

On Tuesday, Taifane thanked Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration and all the social service agencies and case workers that helped her and her son along the way to getting out of a shelter and into a permanent home, which was furnished by donations from Olivet Baptist Church and Central Union Church.

Taifane, who works at Kalihi-­Palama Health Center helping clients like herself, said she and her son, Solomon, are grateful.

“We’re so blessed and thankful that God gave us this place. … I don’t have to live out of my plastic bag of clothes,” she said.

Caldwell said that affordable homes like the one on Beretania Street — and a sister project on Halona Road in Waianae that also celebrated its first anniversary this month — are the long-term solution to reducing the nation’s highest per capita rate of homelessness.

“Housing someone isn’t the end,” Caldwell said in a statement to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “True success is keeping people housed and providing the tools and support necessary to take care of our families, which in turn allows them to follow their dreams. One year after moving into Beretania, Shyla is housed and thriving, and her son is able to grow up without the stigma or trauma of homelessness. Their future is much brighter due to all of the hands involved in making this project work.”

Both Caldwell and Gov. David Ige have asked landlords to take a chance on renting their units to homeless people who suffer from mental illness or substance abuse using the so-called “Housing First” model that maintains that people do better in housing where appropriate help is available.

But the city’s newly purchased buildings on Beretania Street and Halona Road are aimed at working families who earn 50 percent or less of the area median income, which is $35,200 for a single person and $50,250 for a family of four.

Marc Alexander, executive director of the city’s Office of Housing, said Caldwell’s administration wants to provide more affordable housing for working, homeless families as a critical piece to getting them off the street and out of shelters “to move up the housing ladder.”

The city’s homeless housing portfolio also includes newly renovated units on Piikoi Street and at Winston Hale in Chinatown.

The city also expects the first shipment of modular units to arrive in December for a new project going up across from Waianae High School that’s scheduled to open early next year.

The city also bought a four-story building in Iwilei that will include two floors of housing. And the city’s Department of Land Management is working on two new projects in town, but the details have yet to be announced.

At the same time, Hawaii businessman Duane Kurisu — founder and chairman of the AIO Group, who also serves on the board of directors of Oahu Publications Inc., parent company of the Star-Advertiser — plans to open his Kahauiki Village adjacent to the H-1 freeway viaduct.

Kahauiki Village is aimed at 150 homeless families — or 600 adults and children. Kurisu has gotten a commitment from former first lady Vicky Cayetano to employ as many of the adult tenants who want to work at her nearby laundry service.

Unlike Housing First clients, tenants such as Taifane need only “a light touch,” Alexander said.

“These are working families,” he said. “They need a little hand up, literally, and some help.”

While much of the recent attention has focused on chronically homeless people living in Kakaako and underneath the H-1 freeway viaduct, Alexander said the city’s housing projects are focused on working families.

“This is permanent housing,” he said. “These people are no longer counted among the homeless. They have a stable place to stay.”

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