Residents, business owners fight to stop proposed Chinatown homeless station

Residents, business owners fight to stop proposed Chinatown homeless station
The building at 65 North Beretania St. would be turned into a homeless triage center (Source: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii's largest homeless services provider has a new plan to help keep coronavirus off the streets.

It starts with buying an old building in Chinatown.

"People ask us why Chinatown?" said Connie Mitchell, Institute for Human Services Executive Director. “We need to be close enough so people can actually be brought there rather easily. They won't go with us sometimes when we ask to put them in a car to take them to another place."

The building, at 65 North Beretania St., would be turned into a “Homeless Triage & Cares Station.”

IHS says it would aim to keep the mentally ill and chronically homeless off the streets and reduce the risk of COVID-19 in the community.

“We're not bringing people in who have COVID into the area. It's really to take them off the street and get them somewhere else where they won't be as much of a public health to folks," Mitchell said.

However, Chinatown residents and business owners are asking them to put the facility elsewhere.

"We don't want them here. Chinatown does not want IHS here. We got enough. We are tired, exhausted, embarrassed, violated," said Chinatown Neighborhood Board member Chu Lan Shubert-Kwock.

Many say they were blindsided by the proposal and dozens have signed a petition to stop it.

The center would be located near several residential buildings.

Some worry it will become a new hang out spot for the homeless.

“If they can actually take those people off the street and put them in a building, I would rather have them in a building than on the street,” said State Senator for the district Karl Rhoads. “But you're always afraid it's going to be like the men's shelter down in Iwilei Road where everyone just congregates all day long every day."

IHS says it’s not a done deal.

"This is not a proposal set in stone. We are looking for community input,” said Mitchell.

However, business owners at the location say their landlord already told them the building was sold and they need to vacate by August 13th.

"I want to stay. It's hard to find another spot,” said Francis Wong, Jenny's Lei Shop owner. “I have to find my own spot. So, I'm looking right now."

Pham Rogers has been a hairstylist next door for almost 30 years.

She said she is already selling her belongings.

“I might just sell my stuff and retire. Start all over again, that’s not easy you know,” Rogers said.

IHS says if all goes well, they hope to be operational in a year.

"Yes, some homeless people follow services providers. But it's really the vices that people follow. It's the drugs, it's the drugs that are coming off the boat. It's the prostitution,” said Leina Ijacic, IHS’ Chief Administrative Officer. “We need to also try to get the drugs of the streets. we need to try to get the prostitution off the streets."

The landlord HLJ Properties, LLC did not return Hawaii News Now’s phone calls for comment.

The Chinatown Neighborhood Board will be taking this issue up at their meeting next week.

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