Shelter forced to deny a few
By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Curtis Lum
A temporary shelter for the homeless opened by the state on Monday in Kaka'ako already has reached its capacity and officials on Wednesday began turning people away.
"The Next Step" shelter was expected to hold a maximum 200 people, most of whom were forced to leave Ala Moana Beach Park March 27 when the city began closing the park nightly. Many later were taken in by two churches.
On Monday, only 70 people, mostly single men, slept over at the 36,000-square-foot converted warehouse on Forrest Avenue. But as word got out, more people began to show up and by Wednesday night 235 people lined up for the free dinner and 170 spent the night, officials said.
But without knowing how many of the 235 would sleep there, officials had to turn away three men late Wednesday night, said Utu Langi, head of H5 — Hawai'i Helping the Hungry Have Hope. He said sleeping space for about 10 men had to be kept open because they were at work and didn't show up until about 10 p.m.
Langi said he and others involved in the project will have to develop a system to identify those who are there only to eat. He also said there is a problem with people who sign in but don't stay the night.
"We're keeping an eye on that. Pretty soon we're going to tighten that up," Langi said. "I don't know how they get the word that they can come here and eat. That will not be the case in the near future."
Langi said yesterday that he was surprised that the shelter has filled up so quickly.
"I knew that we were going to hit maximum fast, but not this fast because the first night when I saw the security that was provided and the safety of the people, I knew that it was only a matter of time that people would start showing up and that's exactly happened," he said.
WALLS GOING UP
The Housing & Community Development Corp. of Hawai'i, the state housing agency, said there are no immediate plans to increase the shelter's capacity, said Adrienne Gardner, HCDCH spokeswoman.
"There's been some discussion, but we're reluctant to do that primarily because this is an emergency facility that was created to meet a very specific need, a very specific population that needed to be relocated from the two churches," Gardner said.
Gardner added that the state plans to install cubicle walls to provide some privacy for the clients. Once the walls are up, the state will determine whether more people can be accommodated.
But Gardner emphasized that the shelter is not meant to be a permanent solution.
"We don't want to draw people away from places where they are already receiving services," Gardner said. "We don't want this to be another alternative. We want this to be a place for those people who have no other alternative."
On Monday, about 20 of the people who spent the night at the shelter did not return the next evening. Many complained about the shelter's hours, 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m., and other rules.
Langi said it was "unfortunate" that this group chose to leave the facility.
"This place is provided for people to come and have a safe place to sleep at night and we just cannot accommodate everybody's needs," he said. "We as program providers cannot try and figure out everything. We have to work together with them."
Josephine Keliikipi is one person who appreciates The Next Step shelter. Keliikipi had lived in Ala Moana Beach Park since 1996 and slept at bus stops and then Kawaiaha'o Church when the city closed the park.
She said the shelter is very nice and she feels safe there at night. Keliikipi also said she doesn't mind the rules.
"When you live in a park and you're homeless, you appreciate what you got. Anything," she said. "It's not a prison. You have a bathroom, you have something to wash your face and you have bedding to sleep."
When the shelter is closed, she goes back to Ala Moana park to shower, she said.
Like Keliikipi, Rolando Sena has been at the Kaka'ako shelter since it opened on Monday and he also likes the accommodations. Sena said he's on the wait list for senior citizen housing, but in the meantime can't afford to rent on his $376-a-month Social Security benefits.
"So far I haven't seen no bickering so it seems all right," Sena said of the shelter. "Everybody leaves their stuff here, and I haven't heard of no stealing yet. There has to be a little bit of trust around here. There has to be."
The state spent about $200,000 to get the former warehouse ready for the homeless. Gardner said yesterday she was not sure how much it costs daily to run the shelter.
A state deputy sheriff is stationed at the entry gate and two private security guards are on duty each day. Dinner is provided by churches and other service groups.
Reach Curtis Lum at email@example.com.