City-funded domestic violence shelter that was barely used is slated to close down

Updated: Jun. 11, 2019 at 6:03 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A city-funded safe house for domestic violence victims that’s been barely used since it opened in 2016 will shut down, officials confirmed Tuesday.

The decision came after the City Council rejected a funding request for the facility, a pet project for embattled city Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro, who has since gone on leave amid a federal investigation.

The city Prosecutor’s Office won’t confirm exactly when the safe house will close.

But sources tell Hawaii News Now that staff at the center broke the news to residents Monday, telling them they have until Aug. 31 to find a new place to stay.

[Read more: City Council to deny funding increase for little-used domestic abuse safe house]

[Read more: City looks to convert barely-used safe house for abused women into homeless shelter]

The creation of the $5.5 million facility was a top priority for Kaneshiro, who claimed the Family Justice Center would help put abusers behind bars by providing safe housing for victims.

But four years after its launch, the facility was seen as a failure: Expensive and not improving the conviction rate.

“Basically to house one person in the safe house would cost the city about $100,000 per year for up to two years,” Honolulu City Councilman Joey Manahan said.

"And we're only winning half the cases that are going through the safe house. We've only won 14 out of 26."

Those numbers prompted the City Council to cut $180,000 from the center’s budget ― money that would pay for around-the-clock security.

In a statement, a spokesperson from the city Prosecutor’s Office said that “without security there can be no safe house.”

Manahan says that’s not entirely true.

If the Prosecutor’s Office wanted to, he said, it could find the money in its own budget.

“The prosecuting attorney lapses about $700,000 a year. At least last year they did," he said. “I think pretty consistently that’s the carryover. So if they really wanted to fund the program within the budget I believe they could.”

Attorney Megan Kau says from the beginning the safe house struggled with legal issues.

“It shouldn’t have been open to begin with," she said.

Kau represents two employees with claims against the office. She says she’ll be glad to see the facility close, saying the Prosecutor’s Office was never equipped to run a domestic violence shelter.

“It should not have been bought with city money,” said Kau.

“I think it was a huge expenditure that I’m sure voters would not like to be seen used when in fact we have houses. We have domestic violence houses. We have safe houses for women. They are run by people who are trained.”

HNN reached out to Kaneshiro for comment on this story, but because the safe house purchase is part of the federal investigation linked to the Kealohas, his attorney said he couldn’t respond.

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