Roving homeless service center with inflatable tents to debut in Waipahu

Published: Oct. 20, 2019 at 5:10 PM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

WAIPAHU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - In an effort to get more homeless people off the streets and into shelters, the state and city are teaming up to launch a mobile hub for temporary housing and services that will be open around the clock.

The three-year, $6 million pilot project is called HONU -- short for "Homeless Outreach and Navigation for Unsheltered Persons."

The funding is coming from the $30 million state lawmakers approved for so-called “ohana zones.”

The first center will launch in Waipahu in December at the Waipahu Cultural Garden Park.

A second Oahu site is scheduled to open in six months.

City officials say the centers will move to different communities every two to three months, in coordination with homeless sweeps.

They say the idea came from Honolulu police officers who were conducting homeless enforcement efforts at night, when the shelters weren't open to take anyone in.

"We're responsible for 24/7 enforcement," said Sgt. Mike Lambert of HPD. "What was happening is that we didn't really have the services to match that enforcement, so it was kind of a little bit unfair."

The city says the hub will have 10 military-grade tents that can house as many as a hundred people, and offer services like laundry, hygiene, medical, food, and transportation.

"We don't expect to have more than 20, 25 people there at any given time," said Pam Witty-Oakland, community services director. "Folks can come get a hot shower, get a hot meal, and the next morning we'll network them with the appropriate shelter space. We expect this to be a 48 to 72 hour turn around."

Witty-Oakland says the site will also be pet friendly, able to shelter both individuals and families, and allow homeless enforcement efforts to be more targeted.

"(Sweeps) were very complaint driven, and instead, we've decided to step back and look at a more strategic approach. Now that we have this resource available, we can target given areas at a given time," said Witty-Oakland.

Some residents are skeptical.

Members of the Waipahu Neighborhood Board say they appreciate any efforts to address their community's homeless problem, but they are worried about the location of the site near Hawaii's Plantation Village.

"There's not just a residential area, but there's also a lot of businesses," said board member Cory Chun. "I know businesses are really concerned with how to deal with the homeless."

And because HONU is a roving center, Chun wonders what will happen once the tents and services leave town.

“What happens after? The idea is to provide short term solutions to get these folks on their feet, but for some of them, that’s just not going to be enough. We do know there’s still going to be those folks who are just going to fall through the cracks,” said Chun.

Copyright 2019 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.