Proposal calls for hygiene centers for homeless - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Proposal calls for urban rest stops for homeless

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

They're basic life necessities that become everyday challenges for people who live on the street – clean clothes, access to a restroom, and a place to shower.  This Thursday a Honolulu City Council committee will consider a pilot program to create urban rest stops, or hygiene centers, for the homeless to bathe, use the bathroom and wash their clothes.    

"It's everybody's problem – it's all of our problem – and if we don't try to address it together then it's never going to get solved," said Councilman Joey Manahan, who introduced Resolution 13-116.

For the past four years, Tina Robert has washed her husband and 3-year-old son's clothes in a five-gallon bucket before laying it out to dry on bushes along the side of the street in Kaka'ako.

"Water from the shower all the way [at the beach park], come back with the bucket and I put my stuff inside," described Robert.

She says she and her husband have jobs, but they can't afford rent. They use the nearby beach park bathrooms each night.

"No more hot shower, only cold shower," explained Robert.

She's one of approximately 4,000 homeless people on Oahu who officials say would benefit from a free urban rest stop.

Critics say you need to provide permanent affordable housing, mental health resources and job development, but advocates say they need to start somewhere.

"There's no one magic bullet," explained Councilman Manahan. "I think it's part of an overall solution that could really help people, and that's really what we're trying to do with this – fulfill a basic need compassionately," said Manahan.

The proposal is modeled after a successful program in Seattle, which costs about $600,000 a year and is partially funded through a federal grant.  A local public-private partnership would also be key and Manahan says the Institute for Human Services has already expressed support.

"In Seattle, I know they do it two-thirds federal funds and the rest is subsidized by local funding," explained Manahan.

State Representative Tom Brower says there are clear sanitation issues that need to be addressed.

"In Waikiki, the city locks the restrooms late at night and now people have nowhere to go to the bathroom and it is showing and it's hurting tourism," said Rep. Brower.  "We just have to start anywhere and build on it."

Both he and Vice Speaker of the Hawai'i House of Representatives John Mizuno have introduced similar legislation in the past, but their bills to create "safe zones" have failed.

"It's going to be a lot better when we have the federal government, state government, county government working with the non-profits, businesses and organizations – even faith based organizations – together to address the short term and long term concerns of homelessness in the state of Hawai'i," said Rep. Mizuno.   

There are obvious questions city leaders will need to review, including location, hours of operation, and security.  The resolution will be discussed this Thursday during a city council committee meeting at 2:30 p.m.  The hearing is open to the public, and residents are invited to attend and voice their opinion.

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