Amid ongoing crisis, Maui homeless shelters face uncertain future

Amid ongoing crisis, Maui homeless shelters face uncertain future
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

KAHULUI, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Homeless shelters on Maui have begun turning people away because of new state rules aimed at offering the homeless more privacy and moving the homeless into permanent housing more quickly.

Gov. David Ige said the new approach will add more than 100 shelter beds this year, put more than 6,000 people into permanent housing and are aimed at ending homelessness in the next three years.

But in the near-term, all three of Maui's shelters are losing beds at a time when the homeless crisis on the island doesn't appear to be improving.

Most nights there's a waiting list to get into the men's shelter at Kahului's Family Life Center.  But despite high demand, it will close Feb. 1.

A new state law cuts the number of beds allowed in the dorm.

"We calculated we can probably serve five or six men at that point. We had to determine if that was going to be feasible to hire staffing," said Maude Cumming, executive director of the Family Life Center.

The center is also going to stop taking in families. The law says the women's dorm is no longer suitable for children.

"We would only be able to serve single females," Cumming said.

In total, the shelter's capacity will dwindle from 50 to 18.

For the past month, Cumming has been working with Maui's only other service provider to find a place for the people being forced out.

"We're hoping between the two of us that we can accommodate everyone that needs a place but we're just not sure," Cumming said.

Monique Yamashita runs the islands two other shelters. She said Ka Hale A Ke Ola lost space for 12 people. Na Hale O Wainee resource center lost four spaces.

Currently, there's no room for more families at either shelter and only a handful of beds for men.

"We have maintained a waitlist for many years," Yamashita said.

Under the new regulations, clients are expected to spend much less time in shelters. And for the first time, state funding is directly related to how many people are placed in permanent housing along with other benchmark, such as clients maintaining employment and increasing income.

"We need the community resources in place to make sure that actually happens," Yamashita said. "We need our mental health workers to be prepared. We need our Department of Health workers to be prepared. There's this whole other level that that not been prepared and ready for what we're dealing with."

Cumming added, "I don't believe there is enough permanent housing to supply the need."

In a statement, the governor's office said: "The state's approach to addressing homelessness includes a focus on building more inventory, as well as engaging landlords and funding programs to help with housing costs "

Additional money for those programs is a part of the governor's budget request. But if the shelters don't reach their quarterly goals, they'll lose 10 percent of their funding.

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