Shelters say measure aimed at privacy could force them to help fewer people

Shelters say measure aimed at privacy could force them to help fewer people

Under a measure being reviewed by the governor, homeless shelter officials statewide say they'll be forced to cut the number of homeless beds they have -- and potentially turn people in need away.

The measure, approved by legislators in the last legislative session, would require homeless shelters to make changes to their buildings to offer their homeless clients more privacy.

The bill, which was strongly supported by state Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Jill Tokuda, was aimed at addressing complaints from some homeless about the tight sleeping arrangements in shelters.

But some homeless providers say the measure would mean they'd have to serve far fewer people.

Usually, demand for beds at the Family Life Center homeless shelter in Kahului is so high, there's a lottery to get in. If the privacy bill becomes law, the shelter will have to cut the number of beds it has by more than half.

The emergency shelter is one of two on Maui. Upstairs, there's enough space for 35 women and children. The men's dorm can house 15.

"We've tried to make use of every space we've had," said Maude Cumming, executive director. "This is what we came up with and it's been working well. But if we have to divide it up I don't know how we would do that.  It may mean we would have to close down."

Across town, Maui's largest homeless shelter had a similar story.

"I would have to eliminate at least 50 percent of the residents or more who are currently staying here," said Monique Yamashita, CEO of Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Centers.

Under the measure, only one person would be allowed on each bunk bed and several rows would need to be removed to make space for partitions.

"If we had to put a permanent partition in this studio it would reduce the space and capacity of the studio. It wouldn't be a viable option," Yamashita said.

On the Big Island, plans to expand the the Hilo and Puna shelters run by Hope Services Hawaii have stalled due to uncertainty over the bill.

"We always have 100 percent occupancy for our single men and always have a waiting list. Our intent was to use bunk beds and double the capacity," said Director of Operations Janice Ikeda.

In addition, the shelter could lose 16 beds.

But it's the state's largest homeless shelter on Oahu that would be hit the hardest.

Officials at the Institute for Human Services say they would lose more than half their beds.

At the women's shelter the total number of beds would be slashed from 80 to 40. The men would lose 126 of their 200 beds.

High demand would force the shelter to revert to a lottery system. IHS Executive Director Connie Mitchell says that only drives clients away.

"The shelter has the function of providing a a safe place for someone to come off the street where it's not safe. If we lose that capacity to offer it to people then we're not doing the homeless any favors," she said.

Service providers across the state say they're also worried about safety, saying partitions could make it easier for people to do drugs and hide weapons.

There's also concern about cleanliness.

"We had these beautiful partitions with beds custom made when we first opened. When we had an incident with bed bugs it infested everything. We tried to save them. Eventually we had to throw them all away," Cumming said.

Hawaii News Now requested an interview with Tokuda to discuss the concerns, but didn't get a response.

Gov. David Ige has until June 27 to decide if he's going to sign the bill. There's no word from his office on which way he's leaning.

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