The city opened its second short-term homeless shelter in Wahiawa’s Whitmore Village this week. The project, HONU (Homeless Outreach and Navigation for Unsheltered Persons), uses inflatable tents to offer services to unsheltered individuals and families 24 hours a day.
The Whitmore Village location will be used in conjunction with the Keehi Lagoon location to help transition people experiencing homeless into a long-term shelter, treatment or permanent housing.
Honolulu’s Office of Housing and Homelessness Director Anton Krucky said HONU provides relief for services that are often at maximum capacity and unable to accept the amount of individuals in need.
“It’s a triage, emergency shelter where once they’re there, we can stabilize them or help them,” he said.
“We clearly have a capacity issue. So no matter how good a job we do on the street, we need a place to put people to get started on their journey.”
He said COVID-19 severely affected the number of shelter spots available. In January, Oahu had 433 fewer people in shelters than pre-COVID, Krucky said. Of those 433, 19 people were placed in housing, but the rest returned to homelessness.
The two HONU locations add 80 beds to the sheltering system, which Krucky said is even more significant considering that Thursday morning there were only 62 total spots available in general, mental health, veteran and youth shelters.
This year the Keehi Lagoon HONU location has admitted over 300 unsheltered people and moved 169 into more permanent living situations, meaning a shelter, a treatment center, reuniting with family members or permanent housing.
HONU is a moving shelter, funded through the state’s Ohana Zone. It stays at each location for about 90 days before the city determines the next area. In the past the HONU program has been in Waipahu and Old Stadium Park.
On Thursday, three days after opening, there were only six people staying at the Whitmore Village HONU.
However, Victoria Yuen, a community navigator at the Whitmore Village station who has been working on HONU since it began in late 2019, said it would not be that way for long.
“We noticed that it’s the beginning of month when their benefits run out. … That’s when they come for help,” she said.
“Some of them that come to us, they’re heavily homeless. They’ve been homeless for a long period of time. So with them trying to better themselves, you can see the changes.”
HONU offers various services ranging from medical attention to vocational training.
The Keehi location also gives the people staying there the option to be vaccinated with the Johnson &Johnson vaccine, which works better for the homeless population because it requires only one dose.
The goal is to have people stay at HONU for only three to seven days before transitioning them to a more permanent option, but with the limited shelter space, that is not always possible. However, Yuen said that they prioritize families.
Krucky emphasized that HONU is just one piece of the city’s homelessness strategy. He is still working on CORE (Crisis, Outreach, Response and Engagement), which would use social service providers instead of police to address some homeless issues. He plans to have that running by September.
He is still searching for alternative, more community-based solutions to former Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s “compassionate disruption,” which would sweep homeless encampments while offering social services and shelter space but which was reduced due to COVID-19.
Krucky explained that no single program will be a “silver bullet,” and solutions will require community acceptance to work.
“If the community resists that, it’s going to be very difficult for our island to address these issues all the way from affordable housing to homelessness,” he said.
“Community engagement is a big part of what we need to do to be able to execute a system that will have success.”