A Hawaiian blessing was held Friday morning for the new Kaneohe Joint Outreach Center, a medical clinic now serving the homeless on the Windward side of Oahu.
The center, to be operated by the Hawaii Homeless Healthcare Hui, will offer a one-stop shop of services, including a walk-in medical clinic for all without regard for ability to pay, social services and referrals to drug abuse and mental health treatment services. It also will provide clothing, hygiene items and food supplies.
“Some of the folks we see with mental health issues or substance abuse problems or homeless in our community are people that I grew up with, that I know,” said state Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole at the blessing Friday. “Kaneohe’s a small community. Our homeless are our people.”
COMMUNITY OPEN HOUSE
>> Date: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today
>> Place: Kaneohe Joint Outreach Center, 45-260 Waikalua Road
>> Purpose: Tour the center, learn more about its services and how to get involved
An open house for the center, housed in a state building next door to the police station on Waikalua Road, is being held today for community members who want to tour the facility and learn more about its services.
Growing up in the neighborhood, Keohokalole remembers seeing a homeless veteran most know as Mango Man sleeping under the shade in front of the same building, and now it’s where people like him can seek help. Mango Man, or John Cruz, later became a fixture in Kailua before getting the help that he needed.
In those days there were not as many homeless on the Windward side, he said, and now there is a growing need for services as more people are struggling, including numerous families.
The new center, modeled after one already opened in Chinatown, is a three-year pilot program expected to alleviate the volume of homeless seeking medical care at hospital emergency rooms.
While hospital emergency staff can address immediate health concerns, Keohokalole said, they are not set up to offer ongoing care and support. That’s where Kaneohe JOC fits in, offering care for immediate patient needs while providing referrals to needed services to get them back on their feet.
The center became a reality through a public-private partnership, led by state legislators including Keohokalole, Lisa Kitagawa, and Scot Matayoshi, who saw the growing need and worked to bring the Hawaii Homeless Healthcare Hui (H4) to Kaneohe.
H4, an organization founded by two physicians — Lt. Gov. Josh Green and Dr. Scott Miscovich — operates both the Chinatown and Kaneohe centers.
The Windward side has the second-highest number of unsheltered individuals who are part of a family on the island, according to the Institute for Human Services.
Connie Mitchell, executive director of IHS, said the Windward side homeless are often people who are recognized in the community, whether it’s someone’s former schoolmate, son, daughter, aunt or uncle.
The Kaneohe clinic is expected to serve more families, she said, and is located in an ideal hub near the police and fire stations and a state Department of Human Services benefits office.
She hopes it will “provide an oasis” for those in need as well as “a measure of compassion” — a place to get some relief from the hot weather, as well as real services that will make a difference. Offering health care services is often a starting point that leads to other services, she said.
For many Windward side homeless, she said, traveling over the Koolaus to seek services poses a barrier, so it is ideal to have a center in Kaneohe, as well as other parts of the island, to serve the needs of different communities.
Sara Alimoof, the state Department of Education’s homeless youth liaison, estimated there are close to 500 schoolchildren without stable housing in the Windward district.
The center serves a need for these families with schoolchildren, who are not always visible because they may be couch-surfing or living in their cars.
“Without a doubt, I think what they’re trying to create here is a family atmosphere for some of the families who just really can’t afford to have a place of their own,” she said. “That’s a priority, to serve that population and to make it a safe environment.”
Support and funding for the Kaneohe JOC came from many donors, including Alexander & Baldwin, First Hawaiian Bank Foundation, Hawaii Community Foundation, Harold K.L. Castle Foundation, IHS, Kamehameha Schools.