New law could slash number of homeless beds in Hawaii

New law could slash number of homeless beds in Hawaii

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The governor opted not to veto Tuesday a measure that homeless shelters say will drastically cut the number of beds statewide.

The new law, which requires homeless shelters to make changes to their buildings to offer clients more privacy, was aimed at addressing complaints among some who said they wouldn't consider going into shelters because they felt cramped.

But homeless service providers say those privacy partitions will dramatically cut the number of people they serve.

Shelter officials say at least 226 beds statewide are at risk.

Institute for Human Services, which operates Oahu's largest homeless service provider, could be hardest hit. Officials say the shelter could lost 192 of its beds, or about half of its shelter space.

The new law comes as Hawaii faces a growing homeless crisis, and struggles to grapple with a dearth of affordable housing.

Ige didn't sign or veto the measure, allowing it to become law Tuesday.

Now service providers are in limbo, waiting to see how the state will require them to come into compliance with the law by July 2017.

IHS says the agency's main concern over the new policy is that it could force them to turn people away.

"Our job is really to have a bed available and open for the moment a client chooses to get off the streets," said Kimo Carvalho, Institute For Human Services spokesman.

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

"When there is not a consistent bed available, that actually deters people from choosing shelter as an option," Carvalho said.

On Maui, officials at the Family Life Center said the shelter is at risk of shutting down because of the measure. Maui's largest homeless shelter could have its capacity cut in half.

On the Big Island, plans to use bunk beds to double the capacity at two shelters run by Hope Services Hawaii have stalled.

Scott Morishige, the governor's homelessness czar, said the Ige administration is trying to better understand the measure and what it would require.

"Right now, we're taking the time to really understand the issue," he said. "We really want to look at the performance of our shelters. We know it's not just limited to occupancy. I think there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of defining, how do you define what a partition is."

Morishige says at the moment, there is no set plan for implementing the new policy.

He added that there is a possibility the bill could be amended next legislative session.

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