A multi-million dollar Honolulu safe house meant to be utilized by victims of domestic violence is being criticized by advocates at both the local and national levels for failing to live up to its mission.
The founders of the Family Justice Center told Honolulu City Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro, in a letter dated Thursday, to either change the Hawaii center's policies or change its name, saying he is not following proper guidelines.
The safe house, which is maintained by the prosecutor's office, is also called the Honolulu Family Justice Center, the Kaneshiro says he does intend on changing the name.
Hawaii News Now asked Kaneshiro to respond to the specific criticisms of his safe house in this story. He declined, electing to stand on testimony he has delivered to the Honolulu City Council.
"Everything that [Kaneshiro] is doing in this domestic violence shelter is disturbing,” said Casey Gwinn, president of Alliance for Hope International.
Gwinn opened the first Family Justice Center in San Diego in 2002 and has opened 140 of the centers over the last 10 years. He was hired in 2010 by the City and County of Honolulu to develop a strategic plan for the opening of the Honolulu Family Justice Center.
“We did focus groups with survivors, where they told them what they wanted the Family Justice Center to look like, what services they wanted," Gwinn said. "It's an amazing plan that was totally and completely ignored,” he added, referring to the Honolulu shelter.
Gwinn says he did not continue to work with the prosecutor’s office after Kaneshiro got elected.
"There was a pretty active committee in place, with sub-committees working under the leadership of the former prosecutor Peter Carlisle to design and develop the Family Justice Center," said Nanci Kreidman, executive director for the Domestic Violence Action Center. "After he left office, there seemed to have been much less interest in collaborating with the community."
Gwinn said the vision back then was to be a one-stop shop, where victims and their children could access services they need. But today's center in Honolulu requires victims to testify in court. Kaneshiro said if they do not agree, they cannot stay.
That goes against the policies Gwinn sets forth when the center opens in new locations.
“It's a choice-based, survivor-centered model that let's survivors make their own decisions," said Gwinn. "It doesn't require them to participate with the criminal justice system, and it's not a secret location.”
Kaneshiro, who has agreed to rename the center, was recently asked to explain why to city councilmembers.
"I refer to this project as the Honolulu Family Justice Center, but I guess someone who started this Family Justice Center nationwide got offended because our project went way beyond what he envisioned, what he was doing,” Kaneshiro told them.
"The Honolulu Family Justice Center is in no way, shape or form a Family Justice Center," Gwinn said. "There are no services on site, there are no public and private agencies partnered together on site. There is no domestic violence shelter in America run by a DA's office, and there's a good reason for that."
Gwinn says it's likely the reason why there are only four women staying at the 20-bedroom, $5.5 million center in Makiki, which costs about $400,000 a year to operate.
"That kind of a program would have served hundreds and hundreds of victims every month. And for the money that's been spent on the shelter, you could have opened multiple privately-run shelters and housed 20 times as many women as you're gonna be housing in this center," said Gwinn.
Former City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle blames Kaneshiro personally.
"This is a scathing condemnation of what he's doing," Carlisle said. "He's taken a very, very good program and put it into complete disarray."
Attached is a copy of the letter sent to Kaneshiro by the Alliance for Hope: