City Council to deny funding increase for little-used domestic abuse safe house

Updated: Jun. 6, 2019 at 3:10 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu’s acting Prosecuting Attorney is trying to decide what to do with a Makiki "safe house” for domestic violence witnesses that was a pet project of embattled prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro before he became a target in an ongoing federal corruption investigation.

Members of the Honolulu City Council on Wednesday rejected a request by the office for $180,545 for armed security at the facility, which has faced constant criticism for being under-utilized.

The $5.5 million shelter for domestic abuse victims has been open since 2016, but few victims are actually willing to seek refuge there.

Advocates cite the strict rules that are in place, including a mandate that victims have to be willing to testify against their abusers. They also aren’t allowed to leave without an escort, and the center is only open to single women.

In a public update from the Prosecutors Office last year, authorities said only 13 women had stayed at the facility ― which costs roughly $400,000 per year to operate ― in all of 2017.

A spokesperson said Thursday that 41 people have stayed at the facility since it opened in September 2016.

Councilman Brandon Elefante said Thursday that the council cannot force the prosecutor’s office to close the facility because the city charter gives the elected official authority over how to manage its budget.

But by denying the funding request, members of the city council are sending a clear message that they believe the facility is not fulfilling its promise and has become a waste of taxpayers money.

Although some funding for salaries and operations are still in the budget for the next fiscal year, Acting Prosecutor Dwight Nadamoto testified Wednesday that the current appropriation would not be enough.

“I would just like to note that without funding for security for the safe house, the safe house would have to close,” Nadamoto said.

After the council refused to restore the funds despite Nadamoto’s testimony, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office said they were "evaluating our options regarding the future of the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Safe House and expect to have more to say in the future.”

Early last year, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell proposed converting the facility into a homeless shelter, something he said wouldn’t require much work or approval.

“We have an asset,” Caldwell said during a 2018 interview. “The Family Justice Center is just not being filled as we hoped it would have been, and so that is the perfect place to house some of our homeless folks who really need it.”

This story will be updated.

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