HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A four-story low-income building at 126 North Pauahi Street that the city owns will soon house some of Chinatown's chronic homeless. About half of Pauahi Hale's 77 units are empty. The Safe Haven shelter will relocate its offices and 25 clients to the site. It will also take in about a dozen homeless people who suffer from severe mental illness, and alcohol or substance abuse.
"Once they get stable with a safe environment, with a lot of support, and get on psychiatric medications, 90 percent of the people really don't have a need for chemical dependency services anymore," Mental Health Kokua executive director Greg Payton said.
The organization operates Safe Haven. Payton said so far there has been little resistance from the Chinatown community to the Pauahi street project.
But attorney Jeffery Lau, legal counsel for the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, senses a split.
"There is one segment of the Chinese community that really wants to help these people. At the same time, the other half of the community says, 'Enough is enough.' To quote them, 'Why is it always Chinatown? Why don't they go elsewhere?'" he said.
Payton said Chinatown merchants have pointed out homeless they feel need immediate help.
"We already have been doing outreach with those people," Payton said. "We're looking at placing them within the next couple of weeks."
He said Pauahi Hale will have round-the-clock staffing, psychiatric and nursing services, and a public restroom for Chinatown homeless to use.
Longtime Pauahi Hale tenant James O'Connor doesn't like that idea.
"I'm fine with Safe Haven. But the homeless coming in here using our rest rooms 12 hours a day, seven days a week? No, I'm not happy with that," he said.
Payton said the 40 people now living in Pauahi Hale can stay as long as they want.
"Should anybody choose to leave, we would open it up for a Housing First kind of option. And that's good because it opens up more slots for people to move into that are very very impaired. They're on the streets right now," he said.
Lau thinks the Pauahi Hale project can succeed with Safe Haven at the helm.
"They have been able to work within our community to take these people in, to put them in a better place, to improve their lot. And in many cases they have been able to put them back into working society," he said.
Safe Haven needs to finalize arrangements with the city but could have Pauahi Hale operational in January.