New state rules force shelters to cut space for homeless families

In the midst of a continuing homeless crisis, new state rules are forcing shelters to begin turning away families.

Just five months after Waikiki Health's Next Step Shelter expanded its hours to place clients into permanent housing more quickly, it's being forced to scale back its operations.

Currently, the shelter can accommodate 230 people.  But new state regulations aimed at providing clients with more private space and amenities will cut capacity to 125. Sources say all of the family cubicles will be lost.

Hawaii News Now has also learned that Next Step has already stopped taking in new families. The changes go into effect Feb. 1.

The Institute for Human Services is in a similar situation.

"Yes we will have to turn people away," said said spokesman Kimo Carvalho.

The family dorm at IHS already operates on a wait list. The facility can shelter 31 families.

With the new contract they'll lose six units, or space for up to 36 people.

"Sometimes, when they have to go on a wait list, we actually lose that momentum. It doesn't actually result in them getting into shelter or housing," said Carvalho.

The situation comes just weeks after the 80-bed Lighthouse shelter in Waipahu announced it would be impossible to operate under the new rules. It's set to close at the end of January.

The only other shelter that serves strictly families on Oahu is the Family Assessment Center in Kakaako. The temporary facility is only slated to operate through 2018.

In response to concerns from homeless providers, the state's homeless coordinator said the state-funded contracts still aren't complete.

"I think that it's still to early to speculate about the specific impact. The procurement is still ongoing no final decisions have been made," said Scott Morishige.

Meantime, the chair of the state Senate Human Services Committee believes action should be taken now to keep the families sheltered.

"It's in the opposite direction we want to go.  So I certainly would be supportive of the Governor if he wanted to temporarily suspend those rules as an emergency to sort this out," said state Sen. Josh Green.

The state is expected to announce its homeless shelter contracts next Thursday.

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