Weeks after opening, new Big Island homeless shelter nearly at capacity

Updated: Nov. 8, 2019 at 4:44 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - For years, a shortage of homeless shelters on Hawaii Island meant many were forced to struggle on the streets.

Up until last month, homeless men had just two options ― both of which run on a waitlist because they are always full.

Now the third option for homeless men is almost full, too.

The newest homeless shelter on the Big Island is housed in Hilo’s old Memorial Hospital.

The first phase of renovations wrapped up less than a month ago, and already 22 out of the 25 beds at the shelter are spoken for.

“Individuals that need a place to stay can come here and get their second wind,” said Sharon Hirota, the head of Hawaii Island’s Office of Housing.

“They can get medical attention, counseling, connection to employment opportunities, access to a clothing bank and laundry facilities, mail service, obtain legal guidance, meals. And as you can see, you can even get a haircut ― all under one roof.”

After a tour of the facility Friday, Mayor Harry Kim told a crowd there for a blessing that “this is not a place just to sweep people away but a place to help from A to Z.”

The emergency shelter, called Kealahou, caters specifically to homeless men.

Officials say they chose to serve that population because in Hilo there are so few places for men to go.

Keolahou is one of the first Ohana Zones in Hawaii. The project was made possible through state funding totaling $2.5 million.

Next month, capacity will double from 25 to 50 beds. And soon construction will being on the second floor to create 20 new apartments.

“They’ll be able to rent it directly to folks who need a place to stay,” said Hope Services Executive Director Brandee Menino.

Work is also underway on two more Ohana Zone Projects in Kona. One of them will be for families. It will be new shelter space that side of the island doesn’t currently have.

“Even though life is tough there is hope that being homeless today does not mean that you have to be homeless forever,” said Hirota.

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