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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 2, 2006

State helps homeless take the 'Next Step'

Homeless shelter photo gallery

By Curtis Lum and Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writers

Workers help to convert a state warehouse near Kaka'ako Waterfront Park into a shelter dubbed "The Next Step Project."

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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ABOUT THE SHELTER

A state-owned building off Forrest Avenue in Kaka'ako will provide shelter from 5 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. daily. Those who stay will be allowed to keep their belongings there throughout the day, though they will not have access to them during daylight hours. Dinner and a morning snack will be offered by churches and other service providers. Mats and cots also will be available.

Those staying are being issued identification forms that they will need in order to enter the facility each night.

For more information, call the Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance at 845-4565. The shelter is most in need of hygiene items and slippers. Please call before donating.

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David Torres of Wahiawa applauds the news of the temporary shelter for the former Ala Moana park homeless. "That is awesome," Torres said.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Families showed up yesterday at the Kaka'ako shelter, just 'ewa of the waterfront park, for a blessing ceremony. Gov. Linda Lingle made a surprise appearance, telling the homeless that the state will help them to move out of the warehouse and into permanent housing.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Shykelly Hawelu holds up his 4-month-old son, Koa, at the state's temporary homeless shelter in Kaka'ako.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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When Misty Martin was evicted from Ala Moana Beach Park on March 27, she and her friends who lived there had no idea where they would wind up.

That first night they slept at a bus stop. They then wandered for two days until Kawaiaha'o Church welcomed them in.

But with a May 1 deadline set by Kawaiaha'o and Central Union Church to close their shelters, more than 100 homeless people who were staying at those churches again faced an uncertain future.

So when the state announced yesterday that it would open a temporary shelter in an old Kaka'ako warehouse, Martin was one of the first to show up. She spent much of the afternoon looking for her friends, with whom she had shared a camp at Ala Moana park for about a year.

"This is good," Martin said yesterday as she surveyed the large, no-frills warehouse. "The main thing is that we have a place."

The temporary shelter is in a 36,000-square-foot site comprising half of a former storage facility off Forrest Avenue and can house up to 200 people, said Stephanie Aveiro, director of the Hawai'i Community Development and Housing Corp., the state housing agency.

Aveiro said the site, which is owned by the Hawai'i Community Development Authority, is expected to be available for about the next eight months. The state is working to find a permanent solution after that.

The new facility addresses a need touched off five weeks ago when the city began nighttime closures of Ala Moana Beach Park, displacing up to 200 homeless people. City officials have said the park will remain closed from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. daily until June 30, when they will decide whether to extend the closures.

Martin, 41, was among those who took part in a blessing ceremony yesterday at the warehouse, which has been dubbed "The Next Step Project." Gov. Linda Lingle made a surprise visit and received a rousing welcome.

Lingle promised them that the state will help them to move out of the warehouse and into permanent housing.

"We appreciate what you're going through and we're going to do everything we can to get you into a place that's safe, secure and permanent," Lingle said. "The 'Next Step' meant that this wasn't the end of the journey. I know at times it's not going to be easy to take those next steps, but we're going to do everything we can to help you."

CONCERNS OF HOMELESS

Earlier yesterday, some of those staying at the churches expressed concerns about the new shelter, particularly about a lack of showers and daytime access to the site. However, many said they were grateful that a temporary solution was announced on the day the churches said they could no longer house them.

Michael McNulty, who had been staying at Central Union Church the past few weeks, said he was pleased with what the state was able to accomplish since meeting with some homeless people and their advocates last week.

"They're trying to make it a safe and secure place," McNulty said. "That would be paramount in my mind," he said, adding that he intends to stay at the new facility. "I'd like to. It certainly beats sleeping out in the open."

Rudy Peralta, among those who stayed at Kawaiaha'o Church, said he had mixed feelings following the early morning announcement.

"We have those concerns (about access and showers) but we still want to work closely with the state," said Peralta, who is a member of 'Ohana O Hawai'i, a group formed to advocate for the homeless who have been staying at Kawaiaha'o Church.

Leinati Mata'utia, 40, is president of Ohana O Hawai'i, a homeless advocacy group. Her group passed out T-shirts yesterday to the homeless, including herself, which she represents.

Mata'utia had lived in Ala Moana Park for about 10 years and said she was pleased with the warehouse as a temporary solution. She said she would prefer that the shelter not have operating hours, which are from 5 p.m. to 8:30 a.m., but isn't complaining.

"I would choose this any day because it keeps us from the rain, the elements that we face everyday," Mata'utia said. "It'll help a lot of people out."

The warehouse, sandwiched between the waterfront park and an industrial area, is near the University of Hawai'i's John A. Burns School of Medicine.

"Our students, from the first year of medical school, look for ways in which they can help provide community service, so many of them are already working at homeless shelters or clinics for the disadvantaged. This just brings it closer," medical school spokesman Gregg Takayama said.

Steve Wilson, general manager of Rosette, a metal panel manufacturer next door to the facility, said he was willing to give his new neighbors a chance.

"We'll see how it works out," Wilson said. "We're going to do our best to support the effort."

OUTFITTING WAREHOUSE

The state has hired three nonprofit groups to help provide social services and security at the site: the Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance, H5 (Hawai'i Helping the Hungry Have Hope) and the Waikiki Health Center.

The state is spending about $200,000 on the effort, which does not include the recurring costs of having service providers and security on-site.

Workers installed new flooring, a wall to separate the facility from the business next door, and the installation of 12 portable, outdoor toilets to add to the eight already in place, said Bob Awana, Lingle's chief of staff.

In the next few weeks, 4-foot-high partitions will be put up to separate single men, single women and families and to provide some privacy for the guests, he said.

Aveiro said about nine other sites were considered, including the vacated Kamamalu Building, the old Stadium Bowl-A-Drome in Mo'ili'ili and a vacant lot next to Mother Waldron Park. Homeless leaders also suggested Sand Island Park.

"We looked at every vacant site the state could access," Aveiro said.

LINGLE CHIDES CITY

Lingle followed up yesterday's announcement by chastising top-level officials in Mayor Mufi Hannemann's administration, saying they had not done enough to help homeless people after the closure of Ala Moana Beach Park.

"I think it should have been done in a different way," she said, adding that the city should have spoken to state officials and service providers to assess the effect of the park closure.

The governor, a former mayor of Maui County, also said homelessness is a local issue that should be dealt with by the counties.

Bill Brennan, a spokesman for Hannemann, said service providers were notified about the city's decision.

As for Lingle's assertion that homelessness is a local issue, Brennan said the city does not have health and social services or housing agencies like the state's.

"So it makes sense for the state to address the homeless issue since the state is the entity best equipped to deal with it," he said.

Advertiser staff writer Treena Shapiro contributed to this report.

Reach Curtis Lum at culum@honoluluadvertiser.com and Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com.