New homeless ‘detox’ center will offer care for addiction, mental illness

Hawaii has a new tool in getting homeless people off the streets and into a more stable life.
Published: Mar. 1, 2023 at 9:48 AM HST|Updated: Mar. 1, 2023 at 8:34 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii has a new tool in getting homeless people off the streets and into a more stable life.

The Institute for Human Services will open a new ‘Imi Ola Piha triage center on Dillingham Boulevard near the building that houses their existing women’s shelter.

Officials say it is the state’s first medical detox center of its kind, providing a safe, secure space for healthcare workers to treat up to eight patients at a time for mental illness, substance abuse and other urgent health conditions.

Doctors and nurses will provide 24-hour care, including psychiatric medication to reduce withdrawal symptoms, counseling and support services.

“The shelters will not take them because they have such critical issues, whether it’s mental health, whether it’s substance abuse, or whether it’s other issues, these are the individuals that are left behind,” said Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke.

“They’re getting transported to jail or emergency rooms. And a lot of it’s unnecessary, because they haven’t really committed any crimes. They’re just not doing well,” said Dr. Jim Ireland, director of Honolulu Emergency Services. “And they can come to a place like this and be safe, not only for themselves, but for others as well.”

Patients will be referred by HPD and IHS outreach workers -- some have been in their shoes.

“As I found out I was pregnant. I knew that I needed to change and that it was time to change. And so that’s when I reached out for help,” explains IHS outreach case manager Kaimbrea Vance, who overcame her own addiction and now helps others. She says the center fills a huge need.

“In the past, we had a couple places we could call rarely get through, and then there’s a phone assessment and a call back and and when you’re dealing with the homeless population, it can be challenging to find them again the next morning,” she said. “When someone is ready to detox and stabilize, you need to jump and get it. Because tomorrow, they may have, you know, found drugs and are high now, or they might have a change of heart.”

“It’s almost a strike when the iron is hot. Because when they’re ready, we need to be ready,” said Jennifer Hickman, IHS director of operations.

The detox center is expected to ease the burden on HPD and emergency rooms. Last year, the City estimates it helped about 300 people into permanent housing and treated more than 1,000 people.

“It’s not the be all end all. But it’s an integral part of a fight against homelessness,” said Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi.

IHS is able to stand this facility up thanks to a combination of state and federal funds as well as HUD (Housing and Urban Development) money from the City and County of Honolulu.

The ongoing operating costs will be offset by a state grant — which officially kicked in Wednesday.

“We’re almost there. So we’re pretty confident that we’ll be able to open sometime in April,” said IHS Executive Director Connie Mitchell.

”We humbly thank Gov. Josh Green and Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke and their administration for releasing the long-awaited State GIA funds awarded by the Legislature last year,” Mitchell said earlier in a news release. “This program will meet a dire need to help chronically homeless persons on our streets and beaches with the first step in getting clean, sober and/or mentally stable, then transferring them to continued treatment elsewhere.”