Psychiatrist: HPD’s cellblock switch is leaving some homeless people stranded in the suburbs

A community psychiatrist says the temporary closure of HPD’s cellblock in downtown Honolulu is leaving many homeless people stranded in the suburbs.
Published: Feb. 18, 2022 at 5:01 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 18, 2022 at 6:26 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A community psychiatrist says the temporary closure of HPD’s cellblock in downtown Honolulu is leaving many homeless people stranded in the suburbs.

It’s a situation that may have factored in this week’s murder at the Kapolei police station.

In mid-October, officers started locking up detainees in Kapolei because of construction at the main station. Upon release, people are often stuck in a place that’s likely unfamiliar to them.

Dr. Chad Koyanagi estimates between 10 and 20 people, often suffering from mental illness, are being stranded in Leeward Oahu every week.

Since renovations began last fall on the holding cells at Honolulu police headquarters on South Beretania Street, detainees have had to be transported 20 miles west to the lock-up facility in Kapolei.

For those arrested who have easy access to a ride, the switch might amount to a minor inconvenience.

But for others who are homeless and dealing with mental health issues, it’s not so simple.

“The don’t have cell phones, they don’t have a bus pass. They don’t have $2.50 for bus fare,” Koyanagi said. “They don’t know how to get in touch with their case manager.

“They don’t know how to get back to town so a lot of them just get stuck there.”

He says the city has contracted a provider who’s tasked with going into the cellblock, talking to detainees and connecting them with psychiatric and substance abuse programs.

But many people slip through the cracks.

“Some of these detainees are let go at dark hours,” Koyanagi said.

Even if that person is getting treatment or working with a care coordinator they’re not always contacted in a timely manner, leaving many wandering the streets.

On Tuesday night, case manager David Fong got a call that one of his clients ― Linda Johnson ― had been murdered a day after being released from Kapolei cell block.

“I was in disbelief,” he said.

The 48-year-old suffered from mental health issues and had been locked up Sunday for being on the beach after hours in Waikiki.

By the time Fong found out she had been arrested, no one knew where she was.

“She had already been released from the Kapolei police station 16, 18 hours before that officer made that call,” he said.

Johnson hadn’t gone far.

Police say she was beaten to death outside the police substation by suspect Michael Armstrong, a man on conditional release from the State Hospital after years of his own mental health struggle. He had been locked up the day before for punching a police officer but was let go pending investigation.

Hawaii News Now asked HPD if it has made any changes to ensure people’s safety upon release from the Kapolei substation. The department did not respond to the request for comment.

Renovations on the cellblock at the main station were expected to be complete by June but HPD confirms construction is ahead of schedule. Sources say they could reopen as early as next week.

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