The Punawai Rest Stop facility in Iwilei celebrates its first anniversary this week, and city officials offered up some hope Tuesday that other hygiene centers can be established.
In its first year of operation on Kuwili Street, Punawai served 2,238 individual clients, providing 68,846 free services, Mayor Kirk Caldwell said. Those services, provided primarily for the homeless, include the use of showers, toilets, laundry service, computers, lockers, mail collection and even pet care. There’s also a place where people can meet with caseworkers and care providers. The center is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
“This place is about bringing dignity back to folks who don’t have the opportunities as most of us who just take them for granted,” Caldwell said.
Additionally, 92 clients found permanent supportive housing while 35 others received help finding jobs and 10 others entered substance abuse programs.
Area Councilman Joey Manahan, who is largely credited with bringing the operation to Honolulu from visits to the mainland, said, “This is a safe place where people can come and take a load off, reset and get their bearings. It’s a program that restores dignity one shower, one load of laundry at a time.”
Councilman Ron Menor said Punawai’s success signals to him that the city needs to move forward with other programs of a similar nature. “It definitely fills a critical need,” Menor said. “There is no easy answer to addressing our entire homeless crisis. It requires a multifaceted approach. And this Punawai Rest Stop represents an important and promising component.”
Nonprofit Mental Health Kokua is operating the facility on a renewable, $1 million-a-year contract.
Improvements made to the ground floor at Kuwili Street cost an additional $4.3 million.
Construction is continuing for the upper levels of the four-story building, which was purchased for $6.3 million in June 2016, Community Services Director Pam Witty Oakland said. The upper floors will include services for those with medical and mental health needs, as well as studio units.
Theresa Agyiri, who’s been using the rest stop more than 30 days, said she’s been happy with her experiences at the facility. “I would say anyone that’s out there that … needs help … come to the rest stop,” Agyiri said.
Ken Farm, chairman of the Kalihi-Palama Neighborhood Board, invited neighborhood board members and community leaders from other parts of Oahu to visit Punawai. Clients take pride in the facility, and its surrounding area is devoid of vandalism. “People see this as a safe place they can go to and is for them,” Farm said.
From an economic standpoint, said Farm, “it’s cheaper in the long run because if you have people who have the ability to wash clothes, to use a shower, those are people who are not going to end up in emergency rooms as they do in other areas.”