Program to help homeless falls through after key lawmakers question deal

Program to help homeless falls through after key lawmakers question deal

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The launch of a new program aimed at helping move homeless drug addicts and the mentally ill off the streets of Oahu fell through after the deal was questioned by key lawmakers.

A new stabilization facility at Wahiawa General Hospital was expected to open early next year. But now it’s back to the drawing board after state Rep. Sylvia Luke challenged the project earlier this month.

“This was not a situation where Wahiawa General had available empty beds that we could use right away. We would actually have to give them $10 million in taxpayer money to upgrade their beds,” said Luke. “I am very troubled that we would be giving a private entity a gift of $10 million.”

Luke, chair of the House Finance Committee, was also concerned that the Department of Health was planning to take money from its operating budget to pay for the needed renovation.

To speed up the project, DOH made the deal with the hospital under the governor’s emergency proclamation for homelessness. But Luke said that wasn’t right.

“We have spoken with the Governor’s Office and they also agree this is not an appropriate use of the emergency proclamation," Luke said, adding that not letting others bid looks like favoritism.

“It’s that Wahiawa General was handpicked,” she said.

Agencies who want the project will now be given the chance to bid for it.

Wahiawa General remains one of them. CEO Brian Cunningham says he’s not discouraged by the delay.

“This is not uncommon in any project of this size and scope. So I was not surprised that we had to move into an RFP (request for proposals),” Cunningham said.

He said he’s hopeful that Wahiawa General will be awarded the project.

“We’re proceeding as if this is going to happen,” said Cunningham. “One of the reasons is we have the space and we have it immediately available. The other reason is that we have all the wrap around services that a stabilization program would need.”

Edward Mersereau, deputy director of the Health Department’s Behavioral Health Administration, wrote in an email that the agency "continues to explore a variety of options and locations for implementing this level of care. The timeline for execution may take longer than we first anticipated, but I’m confident we will get there.”

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, among those pushing for the project, said that he thinks "legislative leaders are smart to insist on an RFP so the Department of Health can be really clear on what they are seeking and the state gets a property return on investment.”

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