One of Oahu’s only homeless shelters for families has closed. The reason? Red tape

Despite what advocates described as an enormous need, one of the only homeless shelters that took in entire families on Oahu has closed.
Published: May. 6, 2022 at 4:36 PM HST|Updated: May. 6, 2022 at 6:30 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Despite what advocates described as an enormous need, one of the only homeless shelters that took in entire families on Oahu has closed.

The Family Assessment Center near Kakaako Waterfront Park shut down after its lease ran out in February. The building has been sitting empty for more than two months.

HNN has confirmed money for the project is there.

The problem is, the city says that once the state’s emergency proclamation on homelessness expired it was no longer legal for people to live on the property.

Now supporters of the program are questioning why the state didn’t do more to keep it open.

John Fielding and his Boy Scout troop used to volunteer at the facility.

“Homelessness hasn’t gone away,” said Fielding. “We have a lot more issues out there.”

Back in 2016, government transformed an old maintenance shed into a safe place for homeless families. It was one of only three shelters on the entire island that would allow both parents to stay together with their children.

“I’ve seen the success personally first hand,” Fielding said.

Over the past five years, the Family Assessment Center helped more than 230 homeless families get off the streets. And now, at least half of them are living in places of their own. But that work came to a halt in February ― and that was after a six-month lease extension from the city.

The state, meanwhile, still hasn’t finalized a new location for the shelter.

“I don’t know why they didn’t have a place ready,” Fielding said. “I definitely think government failed.”

The city says the state was well aware its lease had to end.

“It’s a park property. And within the ordinances of the park they don’t have a mechanism to extend the lease.” said Honolulu’s Deputy Director of Community Services Aedward Los Banos.

That “mechanism” is an emergency proclamation on homelessness ― signed by the governor. Without one, any housing in the park is illegal.

“I’m still supportive of the program. I don’t know how you cannot support a program for families. Especially families that make a conscious decision to seek shelter,” Los Banos said.

“But we don’t have a way to make it happen.”

Meanwhile, there are few options for homeless families who want off the street.

HONU is a primitive pop-up shelter made of inflatable tents that moves to a new community every couple months. The only other facility that takes in entire families is the Institute for Human Services.

On Wednesday, IHS Community Relations Director Jill Wright said the family dorm was at capacity.

“Having available space is really important,” she said.

“If help is not available in that moment they might move on. They might decide they’re not ready. And then we’ve lost the opportunity to help somebody.”

It’s unclear right now how many homeless families there are on Oahu.

Due to COVID, the most recent numbers are from January 2020. And back then, volunteers counted 315 families ― totaling more than 1,200 people.

“We’re still in a homeless crisis, definitely,” Wright said. “There are homeless families. They’re sleeping in their cars. They’re doubled up with folks. And we want to be able to address that.”

Fielding agreed, “So right now what’s happening is there are families needing this facility. And it’s just sitting empty.” He believes until there’s a viable alternative to allow the shelter to reopen.

“I’m going to put out an appeal to Governor Ige that he needs to re-proclaim the emergency with homelessness in Hawaii,” Fielding said.

The state declined to talk about the closure on camera, but said in a statement it’s “committed to resuming Family Assessment Center services once negotiations are completed.”

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