KAKAAKO (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state has transformed an old maintenance shed into a homeless shelter for families with children.
Just days from its grand opening, the Family Assessment Center near Kakaako Waterfront Park is ready for its new occupants. The new center has the space to house around 12 families at a time.
The center represents the Ige administration's first major construction project to address Oahu's homeless crisis, and is also at the centerpiece of an effort aimed at taking down barriers people encounter in getting into shelters and eventually being linked up with permanent housing.
"We're not looking for a laundry list of criteria for families to get in. We just want them in here so we can help them," said Harold Brackeen III, state Department of Human Services homeless programs administrator.
There are questions, though, about why the state opted to open a shelter geared toward homeless families in the urban core, where the majority of unsheltered homeless are single people.
The Family Assessment Center is also very near the state's Next Step Shelter, situated by the University of Hawaii's John A. Burns School of Medicine.
The state's most recent "point-in-time" count found at least 77 families living on the streets islandwide, which is up from 41 unsheltered families on Oahu five years ago.
The 77 families included a total of 299 individuals.
But nearly 45 percent of those unsheltered families lived on the Waianae Coast. Just 10 families lived in Downtown Honolulu.
Scott Morishige, the governor's homeless coordinator, thinks the count significantly underrepresented the urban homeless population.
"We know just based on what you can see on the streets and sidewalks that we have a growing number of homeless families with children that live in the urban core," he said.
He added that on top of being centrally-located, the Kakaako site was picked based on need.
"Many of the family shelters are already located on the Leeward Coast and in urban Honolulu there is a lack of shelter facilities," Morishige said.
Unlike a traditional transitional homeless shelter, families who come to the center will have a short stay -- less than 90 days.
"It's really re-tooling our current system to move them as quickly as possible through the homeless service system and into permanent housing," Morishige said.
Outside the front door of the assessment center Thursday, there were close to a dozen tents.
But outreach workers said the Family Assessment Center isn't an option for the majority of people there. That's because there's only one family among those living on the streets nearby.
The center is open to unsheltered families with minor children from anywhere on the island. During the two years the facility is slated to be open, officials expect to connect about 400 people with housing.