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Program to stem spread of COVID-19 among Oahu’s homeless population helps hundreds find shelter

  • STAR-ADVERTISER
                                Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell spoke at a press conference Aug. 31.

    STAR-ADVERTISER

    Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell spoke at a press conference Aug. 31.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell today offered an update on the city’s Provisional Outdoor Screening and Triage (POST) program, which started in April to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 among the homeless population.

The program, spearheaded by Maj. Mike Lambert of the Honolulu Police Department, offers emergency shelter for homeless individuals beneath a cluster of large tents set up at Keehi Lagoon Beach Park.

At POST, homeless individuals are each given a care package, a campground site with a tent, along with multiple meals a day, snacks, water, and access to solar power to charge electronic devices, according to Lambert.

They are tested for COVID-19 upon intake and placed into a clear zone if negative. Health providers, along with numerous nonprofit partners, and officers, visit POST to provide services. Testing for COVID-19 is offered several times a week.

HPD is running the program, a continuation of an earlier program, because many officers encounter the homeless while responding to nuisance calls, and can help get them into shelter.

“These officers, they really pour their heart into this program,” said HPD Lt. Joseph O’Neal. “We have officers here that provide meals for individuals from their families.”

To date, about 500 homeless individuals have been served at POST, and roughly half went on to other shelter programs. Roughly 30 were reunited with family, and about 20 moved to permanent housing.

On Sept. 1, the first positive COVID-19 case was detected, and there have been seven total since then. All individuals who tested positive were moved off-site to receive medical care, Caldwell said.

Currently, there are 89 homeless at the Keehi Lagoon site, and 110 tents, according to HPD, but hundreds more are available. The typical length of stay is between two weeks to a month.

Staying at POST is voluntary, O’Neal said, and anyone is free to leave at any time. If they return, however, they will need to be tested again for COVID-19 upon intake.

The program was set up using an estimated $2.5 million in funds from the federal coronavirus relief package. It is actually a continuation of the Homeless Outreach and Navigation for Unsheltered Persons (HONU), an earlier program Lambert started.

Caldwell said Lambert and HPD officers set the tents up themselves, putting in plenty of sweat equity, plus stepped up to manage the site.

“It’s a testament to the officers our men and women in blue for their commitment and putting their own sweat equity into this program,” he said. “The other thing I think it does is it builds relationships with our homeless population who sometimes may look at the police department as a threat.”

Watch the briefing via the video above, or go to Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s Facebook page.

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