New state rules spur closure of Waipahu homeless shelter

(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

WAIPAHU, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - New regulations aimed at bolstering privacy at homeless shelters and moving clients into permanent housing more quickly are forcing a Waipahu shelter to close its doors, officials said Friday.

Waipahu Lighthouse Outreach Center officials said the new rules would make it nearly impossible to operate with their existing budget.

Some 74 people spent the night Thursday at the shelter. Of those, 48 were children.

"There are so many things going through my mind on so many levels," said shelter Director William Hummel. "Right now, my focus is trying to get the people in Lighthouse some place to go."

Hummel has headed up the facility since it opened more than a decade ago.

This week, he made the decision to close.

The closure was prompted, he said, by new rules passed by the state Legislature this year that changed the way the state issues contracts to homeless providers and required homeless shelters to offer more space to clients.

On Monday, homeless shelters were required to submit an operations plan that detailed how they would provide guests with more private space and amenities without added money for construction.

"Some of the things the law requires is a ratio of toilets to guests, a ratio of sinks to guests and a ratio of showers to guests. In a vacuum, (it) makes a whole lot of sense, but given the history of what the state of Hawaii has done for homelessness is ridiculous," he said.

"I have to be clear about this. We're not renewed because we didn't apply. We didn't apply because we don't want to enter into a contract where we agree to do things we know can't be done," Hummel said.

On top of the improvements, shelters are now required to be at 80 percent capacity. If the quota isn't met, funding will be cut. Money can also be withheld if guests aren't quickly placed in permanent housing.

Last month, homeless shelter providers raised the alarms about the new requirements, saying they were unrealistic and unfunded. They also said hundreds of homeless beds could be lost if the state didn't reconsider them.

Hummel said in a state grappling with a homeless crisis, the new requirements just don't make sense.

"There is no permanent housing. The outcome measures, the construction requirements, they're all irrational. I don't want to speak for other shelters but I don't know how other shelters can do this," he said.

Scott Morishige, the governor's homeless czar, said the Ige administration is taking the situation "very seriously."

He said he met with Hummel Thursday to facilitate the shutdown. "We are committed to working together with Lighthouse to find permanent housing for individuals who are residing there," Morshige said.

Meanwhile, with the state refusing to back down from its rules, Aloha United Way says it has money to help and could provide some of the people who live at the shelter with rental subsidies.

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