MAKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - A much-touted, publicly-funded secure housing complex for domestic violence and human trafficking victims in Makiki is nearly empty, three months after opening its doors.
Just two women are staying in the 20-bedroom center in Makiki, which cost about $400,000 a year to operate. The building alone cost $5.5 million.
The center has a director, an assistant, and around-the-clock security.
But since opening in November, just three women total have stayed there. One has since left.
Marci Lopes, executive director for Hawaii State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said it's disappointing to see the complex sit near empty, given the high need for domestic violence services in the islands.
"When I found out how much money was spent to purchase that building, I think how many more shelters could we have built across the state for that same amount of money," she said. "How many more victim's and children could we serve with that same amount of money?"
Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro helped spearhead the center's creation and said the program just needs time.
"The concept is new to a lot of the victims. And despite the fact that they want to escape (their abuse) … it's hard for them to change their way of living," Kaneshiro said.
The rules for those staying at the complex might be contributing to the low number of residents.
In order to stay at the Honolulu Family Justice Center, victims have to be willing to testify against their abusers. They also aren't allowed to leave without an escort. Also, the center is only open to single women.
Those rules seem short-sighted to many.
A domestic violence victim who spoke to Hawaii News Now said she was turned away from the shelter because she has kids.
"I have a household to run. I'm a stay-at-home mother. I can't just pick up disrupt everything," she said.
Lopes said there are nine shelters on Oahu for domestic violence victims, but they are all full.
The domestic violence victim, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said leaving an abuser is hard enough.
"I think a lot of women are just very terrified of going and getting their kids taken away or it's embarrassing to them because it's very embarrassing to me," she said.
Meanwhile, Kaneshiro said the project is open to relaxing some requirements at the justice center to allow for more victims.
But for now, the rules stand.
"It's not a lot of money when you think about the safety of anybody," he said. "Even for one person. It's not a lot of money to ensure the safety because that victim could be murdered and what price do you put on someone's life."