City's new Sand Island shelter less than half full - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

City's new Sand Island shelter less than half full

Kala Koanui strummed his ukulele Monday afternoon. It was obvious, he felt pretty good.

But not long ago, the 59-year-old thought his days were numbered.

Koanui had been homeless for four years. Living out in the elements was taxing his system. He ended up with a nasty staph infection that left him hospitalized.

When he got better, the hospital connected him with a case worker. It wasn't long before he found himself at the city's newest homeless shelter in Sand Island, where retrofitted shipping containers make tiny apartments for people looking to get back on their feet.

"This has helped a lot," said Koanui. "I am so grateful."

The shelter opened two months ago, and on Monday, the city invited reporters to take a look at the facility.

Officials said the facility is only half full, but there's already talk of expanding it. 

"Definitely, we're interested in looking at expanding," said Mayor Kirk Caldwell. "We have used about one acre out of four and we could expand. But part of the reason I don't want to just say we're going to do it, we want to make sure it's working before we add more to it."

Since word got out about Hale Mauliola late last spring, 120 homeless people have applied to stay here.

Of those, several dozen were redirected to other programs. Right now, the program has 32 residents. Six more have secured permanent housing and moved out since the facility opened in mid-November.

Officials say another 13 people are set to move in over the next week. Hale Mauliola can house at least 80 people.

"We're off to a steady slow start and we're looking forward to ramping it up," said Institute for Human Services clinical director Jerry Coffee.

Initially, clients were supposed to be in and out in 60 days. But the challenge of finding permanent housing means people have to stay at the facility longer.

"The average wait time for a transitional housing placement is three to six months," said Coffee.

Although the challenge is daunting, community leaders are optimistic.

"We haven't ended homelessness," Caldwell said. "We haven't even housed the bulk of the homeless. But this is a step on that journey to housing more homeless."

Officials say they hope to have Hale Mauliola at capacity by the end of March.  

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