HONOLULU — Nearly a year after Gov. David Ige declared the state’s homelessness crisis an emergency, Hawaii is opening a new shelter in Honolulu in the heart of a neighborhood that was home to one of the nation’s largest homeless encampments.
Ige’s emergency declaration was designed to speed delivery of services such as building shelters by relaxing regulations. But the shelter is opening more than six months after originally planned, after crews found sewer problems when they began construction.
Even so, the developers said it would have taken much longer — perhaps another year — to complete without the emergency proclamation.
“It allowed us to get around the bureaucracy of government,” said Robert Kubota, vice president of Douglas Engineering.
A year ago, there were about 300 homeless people living in the surrounding park, including many extended families. Outreach workers coordinating with the state found housing for 290 people, said Scott Morishige, Ige’s homelessness coordinator.
“It’s amazing what a year can bring,” Ige said. “To think about what this site looked like, or what Kakaako looked like, 12 or 16 months ago, it truly has been a remarkable transformation.”
Even so, on any given night, there are about 50 unsheltered people living in the area, he said.
“We know just based on what you can see on the streets and sidewalks that we have a growing number of families with minor children that live in the urban core,” Morishige said.
Friends Shai-Ann Barcarse, 14, and Rilly Kenchy, 17, live outdoors with their families. They said they’re interested in moving into the new shelter, especially after recent bouts of relentless rain.
“It’s better than staying out here,” said Barcarse. “Out here, you get sweeps and everything. At least you can be secure, away from the rain and everything.”
The shelter can sleep 50 at a time — about 15 families — and is located in a building that used to house gardening equipment. The converted shed, once grey and musty, was brightened with white paint trimmed with orange to evoke ohia blossoms and carved into multiple spaces for families with 4-foot-high partitions.
Its goal is to fast-track housing placement for families, who will be allowed to stay there up to 90 days, said Jerry Rauckhorst, president and CEO of Catholic Charities Hawaii, which has a $1.2 million contract to run the shelter for 22 months.
Families typically wait years — far longer than 90 days — to get to the top of the list for options like Section 8 housing vouchers or public housing. But Rauckhorst is hoping the organization’s relationships with landlords will help ease the transition.
“When a landlord sees Catholic Charities coming with a family, it makes a whole lot of difference,” Rauckhorst said. Some families are more motivated than others to make a transition to permanent housing within 90 days, he said, adding “It’s realistic, but it’s realistic only with some.”
Pets, tents and food will not be allowed in the shelter, which will open Sept. 28, said Rona Fokumoto of Catholic Charities. But people will be allowed in even if they don’t have identification, which has been a barrier to entry for some.