Honolulu city and county officials say they hope to have nearly 100 homeless people living in transitional emergency housing on Sand Island by this fall.
The Institute for Human Services, O'ahu's largest homeless service provider, was awarded the $850,000 dollar contract to run the facility for one year. Officials say they expect to serve 250 homeless people in that time.
City crews will begin site work next week -- installing fencing, removing kiawe trees, and clearing all the shrubs and trash in the area in preparation for the modified shipping containers the homeless will soon be moving into by the end of summer.
Hale Mauliola is intended to be a place for people to transition out of homelessness. Officials estimate most folks would live there for approximately 60 days, until a case worker can place them into permanent supportive housing.
"This is not the end. This is actually the beginning of where people get into safe and secure housing. That's the ultimate goal," said Jun Yang, the Executive Director of the city and county of Honolulu's Office of Housing.
Officials say the set-up may appeal to people who traditional shelters do not. They'll have their own space, where they can store and lock their belongings. Plus, there will be 24-hour security and shuttle service to and from the island.
"It's a little bit like our Housing First model. We're allowing low-barrier entry. You can come in with your challenges. With a pet, if it's safe. And then get the support to get you off of drug addiction or alcohol addiction or treatment for some type of mental illness," said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.
City officials say Hale Mauliola is needed to provide an immediate place to get people off the streets, but a national expert on homelessness says transitional housing has proven obsolete.
"As a general approach to homelessness its just too expensive compared to some of the other more cost effective interventions like rapid rehousing that people are using now," explained Steve Berg, Vice President for Programs and Policy with the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Local homeless providers say that's not the case.
"There needs to be transitional housing in our continuum still because people really do find new skills and have a chance to really stabilize in transitional housing," said Connie Mitchell, the Executive Director of the Institute for Human Services.
At this initial stage of the project, officials say Hale Mauliola will only serve adult individuals and couples, no children. However, that's something social service providers say is truly needed -- the number of unsheltered homeless families on oahu has increased 73% in the last three years.
"I think there's more vacancies in our shelter system for individuals and on the other hand when you look at shelter space for families, those slots are consistently filled. There's always long waiting lists. So in some sense, families seem to be the population better served by shelters," said Scott Morishige, the Executive Director of PHOCUSED (Protecting Hawaii's Ohana, Children, Under-Served, Elderly & Disabled). "The needs of individuals and families are so different we really need to emply a variety of different approaches and I think at the end of the day, the ultimate solution really is permanent housing."
Hale Mauliola is not intended to be a permanent fixture on Sand Island. The city only holds the lease on the property for the next three years.