comscore Greg Payton: Mental Health Kokua brings needed services to homeless and those with behavioral health challenges | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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Greg Payton: Mental Health Kokua brings needed services to homeless and those with behavioral health challenges

                                Greg Payton, CEO of Mental Health Kokua.


    Greg Payton, CEO of Mental Health Kokua.

Has there been any change in the hygiene center usage since the pandemic began?

The Punawai Rest Stop business has changed three times since March 2020, around the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Hawaii. Since March 2020, Mental Health Kokua (MHK) has conducted laser thermometer temperature checks and questionnaires about health status with homeless guests.

At the end of March 2020, Mental Health Kokua first expanded from 12 hours per day, seven days per week to 16 hours per day, and also reduced density of homeless people in the building at a time, from about 50 as a gathering place, to 10 on the shower side and 10 on the laundry side.

By mid-May 2020, the city recommended Punawai Rest Stop staying open 24 hours per day to reduce density and monitor more homeless people with COVID-19 symptoms.

By July 2020, under a directive from the City and County of Honolulu, the Punawai Rest Stop reduced density at one time from 10 people to five homeless people on the shower side and five people on the laundry side.

How would you describe the effect of the hygiene facilities on the homeless clients?

Dorene Toutant, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), has been MHK’s Maui director. Dorene assumed the position as director at Punawai Rest Stop in summer 2020. Under Dorene’s leadership, the hygiene facility has stabilized and adjusted to the changing demands of the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, Punawai Rest Stop served about 250 homeless guests per day. Homeless adults and some families have adjusted to the changing rules, understanding that as we learn more about the pandemic, Punawai Rest Stop must also change.

During the pandemic: Even though the density inside the Punawai Rest Stop has reduced numbers of homeless guests served at a time, the total daily numbers have remained about 240 guests per day. The Punawai Rest Stop serves more than 3,000 unduplicated homeless guests per year.

For the COVID-positive: Punawai Rest Stop has partnered with Project Vision, which provides testing bi-weekly at the facility. MHK has experienced about five positive COVID-19 cases and facilitated the homeless guests quarantining and/or isolating in available programs operated by the Department of Health.

What are your funding sources for the project?

Funding ($1 million in operating funds annually) is provided by the City and County of Honolulu.

Donations: The Punawai Rest Stop has been fortunate to benefit from many donations including Alsco Linens (towels), Street Dog Coalition (volunteer veterinarians), Long Drugs (supplying individual hygiene items), Ohana Health Plan (on-site health plan registration), Project Vision (COVID testing), and Taiwan Cultural Office (backpacks and personal items).

Are there plans to replicate these services at other “rest stops”?

Replication of the Punawai Rest Stop has been discussed by Mayor Kirk Caldwell and various City Council members, but there are no plans for other districts to provide similar services at this time.

Separate from the Punawai Rest Stop project, what are the other ways your organization fulfills its mission?

Established in 1973 as “The House,” MHK is the oldest nonprofit mental health social-rehabilitation service provider in Hawaii.

Mission: Through specially designed services and settings, Mental Health Kokua assists people with behavioral health and related challenges, to achieve optimum recovery and functioning in the community.

Personnel: MHK has about 275 employees on Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Hilo and Kona.

Programs are on Kauai, Oahu, Maui, and in Hilo and Kona. MHK services primarily adults over 18 years old, with serious mental illness, e.g., schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression with psychotic features.

Homeless services: MHK places more than 200 homeless adults with serious mental illness annually, statewide. Referrals come from street outreach and the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Continuum of Care, e.g., Partners In Care Oahu and Bridging The Gap on the neighbor islands.

Housing: MHK has 258 beds statewide. Most housing referrals from the Department of Health-Adult Mental Health Division.

Case management: MHK serves about 870 clients per month statewide. Referrals come from Ohana Health Plan and Department of Health-Adult Mental Health Division.

Peer coaching: MHK has about 25 peer coaches, paid by MHK, who are people in mental health recovery who serve as mentors for others early in recovery.

Psychiatry: MHK serves more than 800 people per month statewide.


>> Title: CEO, Mental Health Kokua since 2008.

>> Professional history: Served in the mental health field for 40 years. Kaiser regional manager of behavioral health, 1998-2008; executive director of Waianae Community Mental Health Center, 1995-98.

>> Education: MA in psychology and MBA from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

>> Community work: Also serves as an accreditation surveyor for CARF International (Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities,, accrediting behavioral health organizations across the United States and Canada.

>> Personal: Born in Seattle, raised in Phoenix and returned to Seattle as an adult to work.

>> One more thing: From the Punawai Newsletter, a success story about Linda, 62, tired of being victimized and robbed, “had been coming to Punawai for hygiene services and decided it was time to meet with the case management staff. … She was able to get government identification, find psychiatric services, medical care and eventually her own place to call home. Staff report, ‘Linda is almost unrecognizable, healthy, with a big smile and an upbeat personality.’”

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