A Makiki apartment building has been transformed into secure, transitional housing for domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking victims who are preparing to testify in court.
The unique city program features renovated units with round-the-clock security, and is designed to mirror witness protection programs. But unlike similar mainland programs, victims will be able to stay on until they find long-term permanent housing of their own.
"We are now giving victims and witnesses an opportunity to testify truthfully," said city Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro, at the Honolulu Family Justice Center's dedication and blessing Thursday. "They don't have to be afraid of telling the truth, because they have an option. They can come here."
The 20-bedroom Honolulu Family Justice Center, which is expected to open by the end of the year, is a project Kaneshiro's passionate about.
Under his leadership, his office instituted a "no drop policy" for domestic violence and sexual assault cases, preventing victims from backing off of charges. The decision earned him criticism from domestic violence advocates, but Kaneshiro said it's not about re-victimizing victims.
"It's to protect the victims from being pressured into making a decision whether to drop the case or proceed," he said. "All they have to do is come and continue to testify truthfully."
The center will be available to single women who need a safe, secure place to await trial.
Pam Tamashiro, center director, said the facility will help victims escape their abusers.
"You wonder why these victims keep going back to their batterers time and time again and it is for a whole different bunch of reasons -- kids, finances -- but one of the reasons is because they don't have alternative housing," she said. "If they don't return to the batterer or their abuser they're going to be out on the streets."
In addition to security, the center has a dedicated police officer and a witness interview room. On-site, women will also have access to transitional support.
"When somebody comes here, they're in one place where they can get the care they need and the services and the training and everything to not have to go searching for all that themselves," said Toby Kapahu, a survivor and advocate.
Officials say they're already getting requests from victims who need housing as soon as possible.
They estimate each woman will be able to stay about two years, until she can live on her own. There is no charge to stay at the facility.
The Honolulu Justice Center building was purchased by the city. The program is expected to cost about $450,000 a year.