An old hospital in Hilo is being transformed into a haven for the homeless

Updated: Apr. 11, 2019 at 8:36 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In Hilo, an old hospital is being transformed into one of the state's first homeless Ohana Zones. It's one of two Ohana Zone projects in the works for Hawaii Island.

While giving Hawaii News Now a tour of the building, Mayor Harry Kim’s executive assistant Sharon Hirota pointed out what still needs to be done.

“The windows and screens need to be repaired,” she said. “We definitely need to do some repainting in here.”

While there’s still a good amount of work to do before it can open, Hirota says the county’s idea is to turn the ground floor of the old hospital into an Ohana Zone for homeless men.

Data shows that’s the sector of the homeless population that needs the most help in the Hilo area.

“We foresee that we could fit 25 bunk beds in the sleeping area,” said Hirota.

Up until last month, the building housed an adult care center.

In addition to providing a safe place to sleep, the shelter will also serve as a navigation center ― something the island doesn’t currently have. The goal is to help connect clients with jobs and permanent housing opportunities.

Other amenities will also be available.

“We are working with our community agencies to provide an array of services that include possibly meals, laundry services and restroom facilities,” said Hirota.

Brandee Menino heads up Hope Services Hawaii, the island’s only homeless service provider. She says the Ohana Zone concept allowed the county to get creative in terms of constructing exactly what Hawaii Island needs.

“It really was not defined for what a program should look like. So Ohana Zones meant we could fill the gaps in our community,” said Menino.

In Kona, the focus of the second Ohana Zone will be on homeless families. Right now, there’s no shelter for that population on the west side of the island.

“We will be using an existing project, Na Kahua Hale O Ulu Wini,” said Hirota. “We’re looking at a total of 23 units.”

Ten of the units will be used for temporary housing, while the other 13 will become permanent homes.

An on-site navigation center there is also in the works.

The plan is to have the Ohana Zone in Kona operational by mid-summer. Both Ohana Zone projects together were funded by the state and are budgeted at $4 million.

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