A place for Iwilei homeless to shower, do laundry, pick up mail and receive other services opened Tuesday on Kuwili Street.
The city’s Punawai Rest Stop is designed as a “zero barrier” facility, what’s also been described as a hygiene center, where people don’t need to meet any criteria to use the available services. Mental Health Kokua won a $1 million contract to operate the facility for one year, with an option to extend the contract with up to four more one-year terms.
Mental Health Kokua is already under contract with the city to provide a smaller, shower-and-restroom-only rest stop in Chinatown on Pauahi Street. The nonprofit operates in the same Pauahi building as Safe Haven, a housing and services facility for homeless single adults with mental illness.
Greg Payton, Mental Health Kokua CEO, said 12 employees will staff Punawai, which is expected to serve 100 people a day. About 30 to 40 people will be allowed inside at any one time to ensure everyone can be accommodated. The Pauahi hygiene center serves about 60 people daily, he said.
Punawai is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, said Surlester McBride, Punawai manager.
Included in the facility are 10 washers and 10 dryers, eight shower rooms and indoor toilets for visitors, and an area where visitors can meet with caseworkers and care providers. All toiletries will be provided free, from toothbrushes to disposable razors and even laundry detergent.
Punawai also provides computers and free Wi-Fi, as well as a pet-washing area, a machine that kills bedbugs with intense heat, and a mail service for guests.
The four-story Kuwili Street building was purchased by the city for $6.3 million in June 2016. The other floors, including services for those with medical and mental health needs, as well as studio units, are slated to open late this year or early next year, Mayor Kirk Caldwell said Tuesday morning during a blessing. A formal request for proposals will be issued in the coming weeks, he said.
“This is part of a bigger dream that’s going to go on top of this ground floor,” the mayor said.
Improvements made to the ground floor to create the rest stop cost an additional $4.3 million.
Caldwell credited area city Councilman Joey Manahan with shepherding the project. Manahan took the idea to Caldwell after visiting rest stop centers in Seattle. While other Council members raised concerns about attracting more homeless individuals into their districts, Manahan was open to the notion of more facilities in his community, Caldwell said.
The rest stop is considered a component of the “compassionate” part of Caldwell’s “compassionate disruption” approach to addressing homelessness. The “disruption” part is comprised of a series of laws aimed at removing or discouraging people from sheltering on city sidewalks, parks or other public property.
“When we allow homeless folks to live on the side of our roads, and on our sidewalks and in our parks where they don’t have a bathroom or shower, where they’re not safe, where their life span is cut by 20 years, that’s not compassion,” Caldwell said.
Manahan said many of those living on the streets or out of their cars are working homeless. “A lot of these folks, despite their living conditions, are trying to keep their jobs. And so we needed a place where people could come and take a rest from that stress of living on the streets and have a safe place to be able to shower, do their laundry and perhaps services if they want it, too.”