comscore Column: Facility would protect Chinatown community, help homeless | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Editorial | Island Voices

Column: Facility would protect Chinatown community, help homeless

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  • Connie Mitchell is executive director for The Institute for Human Services.

    Connie Mitchell is executive director for The Institute for Human Services.

The Institute for Human Services (IHS) acknowledges and understands the frustration of Chinatown businesses and residents regarding the dark side of chronic homelessness that has indeed impacted the community, and the difficulty in finding solutions that work. We’ve been working for many years alongside community leaders, the Honolulu Police Department and other agencies trying to move vulnerable homeless individuals from the streets of Chinatown. Recently, chronic homelessness in Chinatown has come to a head, with the coronavirus crisis affecting the community in new and challenging ways.

Our goal is the same as the community: to reduce the prevalence of homelessness in Chinatown, address the most complex cases, and help the community see progress. Currently, there are many services in the Chinatown area and across our island that are designed to provide solutions to specific problems such as chronic health conditions, mental illness and substance abuse.

What we urgently need are programs that can effectively help navigate people through this complex web of existing services and provide a safe space to wait while the services and individuals are matched and readied.

The proposed Chinatown Homeless Triage and CARES Station was eligible for the CARES COVID-related Community Development Block Grant (CARES-CV CDBG) funding because it will serve to remove people from the street who pose a public health threat. CARES-CV CDBG funding was distributed to assist counties tackle blight, public health and homelessness issues that can be tied to mitigating impacts of the COVID 19 threat.

The initiatives planned for the proposed facility are designed to protect the Chinatown community from persons who have little cognitive capacity to implement individual actions that help reduce the spread of COVID 19 and other infectious diseases, including practicing social distancing, wearing a mask and washing hands regularly. Clients will be monitored while on site to keep the neighborhood safe and will be encouraged to stay on property until they are handed off to their next point of care.

While IHS has long been known for providing emergency shelter and meals, the breadth of assistance we offer also includes getting people access to mental health treatment.

We actively engage chronically homeless people and help them get medicated when appropriate. We use assertive outreach, intensive case management and a plethora of interventions that motivate people toward change.

We also go to court to request court-ordered treatment (including psychiatric medications) in some cases by filing petitions for guardianship or Assisted Community Treatment. These efforts are designed to reduce residents’ and business’ unpleasant encounters with out-of-control, unhealthy and vulnerable people who clearly need help to mitigate their disruptiveness.

IHS asks for the opportunity to locate our outreach closer to the area of greatest need, where we can improve our responsiveness and effectiveness specifically within the Chinatown community.

We look forward to sharing more about our intended efforts in Chinatown and why the site we propose is part of an important overall strategy to provide the kind of help the Chinatown community needs to ameliorate the problems that chronically homeless mentally ill and substance addicted persons present.

For more: An online Q&A with the community will be held on Friday at 3 p.m. To learn more or to get involved, see

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