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Clinic for homeless planned for Punawai Rest Stop in Iwilei

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The homeless in the Iwilei area soon will have their own version of an urgent-care facility aimed at providing immediate, but not-quite emergency, medical help.

Punawai Clinic, which will take up two floors of the city’s Punawai Rest Stop building on Kuwili Street, is expected to open sometime in the next year or so.

The Punawai Rest Stop opened in January as a place for Iwilei homeless to shower, do laundry, pick up mail and receive other services.

A public hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday at Kapalama Hale, Suite 200, on Resolution 19-144 authorizing the administration of Mayor Kirk Caldwell to enter into a lease with the Hawaii Homeless Healthcare Hui (H4) to build out and operate the Punawai Clinic for the next five years. Passed on Wednesday by the City Council Budget Committee, the proposal will come up for a final vote of the City Council early next month.

H4, a nonprofit co-founded by Lt. Gov. Josh Green, provides hygiene, health care, medical respite and transitional housing for the homeless. In addition to the urgent-care clinic on the mezzanine level, H4 will operate a 21-unit transitional housing facility on the second floor.

“In our work to address homelessness throughout our county, we recognize that health care is a vital component to permanent housing for our homeless individuals,” said Pam Witty- Oakland, city community services director. “And so this is a big piece of a greater plan to house those who are living on our streets.”

Caldwell said people in blue hospital gowns often can be found just outside the grounds of Honolulu’s major hospitals after being released from care. “Many times these patients are high-flyers: They come in and out every single week, expending huge sums of money and taking up emergency rooms from others on our island who need a room,” he said.

Facilities like the Punawai Clinic present a better approach, he said. “It’s for non-emergency needs. Obviously, if you’re going to have a heart attack, you’re going to Queen’s or Straub or some other hospital. But if you’re someone who has an infection, you could be taken to the Punawai Clinic and be treated.”

H4 Executive Director Andy Mounthongdy said the clinic is designed to complement the other services in the building.

H4 already operates two clinics, at the Institute for Human Services’ men’s shelter on Sumner Street and at the Chinatown Joint Outreach Center. Between them the clinics in their first year recorded more than 4,000 medical visits by 1,400 patients, Mounthongdy said.

The city spent $7.9 million to purchase the Kuwili Street building and about $5.1 million on preliminary construction for the portions to be housed by H4, which will take up about 17,585 square feet. H4 will pay the city $100 a month.

The “no barriers” Punawai Rest Stop operates on the ground level of the building. 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 additional one-year terms. The city put in about $4.3 million in improvements.

Yet to be secured is a contractor to operate 21 units on the building’s top floor for the Housing First program, which operates under the philosophy that issues such as drug addiction or mental illness are secondary to actual placement of an individual in housing.

Caldwell thanked the district’s Council members, Joey Manahan and Carol Fukunaga, for supporting the city’s homeless initiatives.

Fukunaga said the project “represents the potential reclaiming of Chinatown for families and neighbors to travel safely in.”

The city has been looking at other sites around the island that could be used in a similar manner, Witty- Oakland said. She urged Council members to present their own ideas to the administration, which often hasn’t been the case in recent years. “You know your districts better than we do,” she said.

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