Facing opposition, IHS halts plan to buy Chinatown building for homeless ‘triage center’

Updated: Jun. 2, 2020 at 3:28 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Fierce pushback from the Chinatown community prompted the state’s largest homeless service provider to call off its plans to buy a building on Beretania Street.

Now the non-profit is in search of another place to put a homeless “triage center,” preferably in the same neighborhood.

It’s a move the community has vowed to fight.

On Monday, Chinatown leaders said they believe in the Institute for Human Service’s mission, however they will not support any more facilities geared toward serving the homeless in their community.

Although 65 N. Beretania Street is crossed off the list of potential sites, IHS remains committed its cause.

“It’s really about launching people onto a path of recovery,” said Executive Director Connie Mitchell.

The idea is to create a small homeless triage center that provides people lost in either mental illness or addiction a place to stabilize, giving them a chance at treatment.

Mitchell says the facility would have six beds and clients would stay no more than three days.

“It’s really to help them get cleaned up, showered, get some nutrition into them, get them a good night’s rest,” she said. “So they can think a little bit more clearly in the morning and we can have a conversation.”

Chu Lan Shubert-Kwock, president of the Chinatown Community and Business Association, says the neighborhood has been an epicenter for homeless services for decades.

She fears the facility will only attract more squatters.

“We do not have the space or the tolerance anymore in Chinatown,” Shubert-Kwock.said.

“They (service providers) can’t control their clients and it becomes a problem for the community. It’s not their intention but that’s a consequence.”

Some also question how the project’s being funded.

The non-profit was awarded a Community Development Block Grant as part of the federal CARES Act.

“I believe and speaking of my federal service that this is an incorrect use of the COVID money in the first place,” said former Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who has an office in Chinatown. “You cannot use this money to make a purchase of a building for something that is transitory in terms of COVID-19.”

Abercrombie says he supports the services IHS is trying to provide but thinks the triage center belongs a half mile down the road in Iwilei near the Punawai comfort station and the non-profit’s shelter.

Mitchell said Chinatown and Downtown Honolulu "always has the highest concentration of chronically homeless and unsheltered people. So we feel very committed to making a difference with that population.

She added that IHS has until the end of the year to acquire a new building or risk losing the funding.

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