Hometown Heroes: The psychiatrist who practices on the streets to ‘make Hawaii a better place’

Hometown Heroes: The psychiatrist who practices on the streets to ‘make Hawaii a better place’
Psychiatrist Dr. Chad Koyanagi and Institute Human Services Outreach Field Manager Justin Phillips talking to homeless man Darrell Liftee in Chinatown. (Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Dr. Chad Koyanagi has been helping people who live on the streets in Hawaii for decades and knows many of them by name.

He says it's important to build relationships with them in order to treat them.

“The ones I kind of focus on the most, since there’s only one of me and I’m a psychiatrist, are the ones that are the most mentally ill, psychotic, people lacking insight, people who have been failed by the mental health system,” Koyanagi said.

Koyanagi’s very first job as a psychiatrist was at Safe Haven in Chinatown. Services there include medical, psychiatric and rehabilitation for people who are homeless with severe mental health issues.

He said he knew very early on in his career that he wanted to treat people living on the streets.

"As far as I know, I'm the only psychiatrist who goes out into the field,” said Koyanagi. “There are many psychiatrists who mostly work out of a clinic or an office, so I'm kind of an oddball in that regard.”

Koyanagi says someone who does not believe they are mentally ill is probably not going to take pills, especially if they are not housed.

One type of medication he provides comes in the form of an injection that he administers personally once a month to those who consent.

He says it has worked miracles for some of Hawaii’s chronically homeless individuals.

"Very rewarding getting to have positive results for some of our folks who end up getting housed, who end up getting reunited with their families, who end up having improvement in their health," Koyanagi said.

People like Jeanette Serikaku and Ben Taparra have both found homes after decades living on the streets because of Koyanagi and a team of dedicated outreach workers.

“We’re really fortunate and blessed to have him on our team,” said Justin Phillips, Institute Human Services outreach field manager. “To use that kind of resource, to engage the homeless out here in the community and provide services directly, I feel like it impacts the community immediately."

On being named a Hometown Hero, Koyanagi said, “I don’t think I deserve that kind of recognition. A lot of the work that I do, I surround myself with amazing people … people who want to change the world … make Hawaii a better place.”

To nominate a “Hometown Hero,” email: HometownHeroes@HawaiiNewsNow.com.

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