City Councilman wants to turn city's Sand Island homeless shelter into parking lot

City Councilman wants to turn city's Sand Island homeless shelter into parking lot
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

SAND ISLAND, OAHU (HAWAIINEWSNOW) - A Honolulu City Councilman is proposing a newly-opened city homeless shelter in Sand Island be closed, and homeless living in their cars be allowed to park on the property and sleep instead.

The proposal comes amid squabbling between the Caldwell administration and the City Council over how to tackle Oahu's homeless crisis.

Last week, the City Council voted to slash nearly $6 million from Mayor Kirk Caldwell's appropriation request for housing programs and homelessness, and threatened to shut down the city's Sand Island, Hale Mauliola.

Now, Honolulu City Councilman Joey Manahan is questioning whether the shelter is even working -- and is proposing the project be closed.

"Right now, I'm not sure if the program teaches self sufficiency because we are housing folks out there but we are also providing for them so there is no real incentive for them to leave," Manahan said.

The shelter, made out of retrofitted shipping containers, cost about $1 million and welcomed its first residents in November.

Since then, the program has gotten 103 people off the streets, 27 of whom have since moved into permanent housing.

Manahan is proposing that instead of shipping containers, the city allow homeless who live in their cars to park on the property.

At least one other City Councilman told Hawaii News Now he supports the plan.

Manahan says homeless living out of their vehicles could park at the site overnight and have access to restrooms and showers. "I would be very open to re-purposing it and in fact if we need to enhance it in terms of funding I am open to doing that," Manahan said.

The proposal is causing no small amount of disbelief among homeless advocates, and comes as the state struggles to address the crisis.

"I was just shocked, and quite frankly livid," said Connie Mitchell, executive director of the Institute for Human Services, which manages the facility.

She says shutting the shelter down would be a waste of taxpayer money, and she adds the proposal alone could make people reluctant to give the shelter a try.

"This is really not OK to have our homeless guests to actually have to fear that there won't be a place after they've made the step of coming in," Mitchell said.

The mayor agrees.

"I think the program is working," he said. "So I wouldn't want to stop something that's actually working. I'd much rather add to it because there are different types of homeless."

If the City Council doesn't approve funding for the shelter, it could have to close its doors as early as October.

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