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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 12, 2006

Kaka'ako homeless shelter needs food

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer

Janet Jinny brushes the hair of her 11-month-old daughter, May Ann, at the Next Step Project shelter in Kaka'ako. Jinny and her fiance, along with the baby, moved to Hawai'i from Oregon to be with the fiance's sick mother. The fiance has a part-time hotel job.

Photos by RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Anyone wishing to be a food provider can call Utu Langi at 223-5176.

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Next Step worker Ulrich Naki walks through the facility alerting occupants that they have 15 minutes before the shelter closes during the daytime. He's with the Family of the Living God Church.

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Nicholas Saunders, who stays overnight at the shelter, says he attends the University of Hawai'i and hopes to become an emergency medical technician when he finishes school this semester. He says he can't rent a place because his family stopped sending him money.

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A Next Step Project member leaves the Kaka'ako facility in the morning. The shelter is open daily, but only from 5:30 p.m. to 8 a.m.

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Harry Mollomo shaves at a sink installed outside the converted storage facility before leaving to go to work. "It's good for what it is," Mollomo said of the improvised shelter. "Mainly, it's legal."

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Posted rules remind the shelter's residents that they must adhere to standards of behavior. "People seem to be getting along," says shelter manager Utu Langi.

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A temporary homeless shelter in Kaka'ako is in need of community groups to help feed more than 200 people who are calling the former storage facility home, volunteers there said.

"Every little bit helps, especially since kids get fed," said Virgil Amoroso, an outreach minister for Hau'ula-based Family of the Living God Church. "They get one feeding a day. ..."

Currently, food is being provided primarily by Family of the Living God Church, Central Union Church and Kawaiaha'o Church, but about a dozen other churches have offered help, said Utu Langi, manager of the facility.

"The ideal scenario is to have enough groups and organizations providing one meal a month so we can do a calendar," Langi said of the shelter's No. 1 need.

"I want the (providers) to feel comfortable that's something very important to me. We don't want to double-book anyone. We need the food."

The warehouse off Forrest Avenue opened May 1 to provide shelter for people displaced when the city began closing Ala Moana Beach Park nightly. Soon after the park closures began on March 27, some local churches took in the homeless, but they were unable to continue sheltering them, leading to the opening of the former storage facility as a temporary shelter.

The shelter is open from 5:30 p.m. to 8 a.m., when it is cleared of all residents.

It provides one meal a day, from 5:30 to 7 p.m., for 220 to 230 people, of whom 25 percent are children 12 and younger.

A typical meal, according to Amoroso, consists of rice, vegetable salad and an entree such as chicken or chili.

"One night, two busloads of kids showed up with care packages of snacks," he said.

The shelter also could use donations of soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, towels, blankets and sheets, Langi said.

Meanwhile, work continues on building small living spaces within the 36,000-square-foot warehouse.

The layout has 61 "quadrants," each with four cubicles made of tempered hardboard. The shelter has 41 quadrants with cubicles measuring 6 by 4 feet for men. It has 20 quadrants with 12-by-6-foot cubicles for women and children.

About half the quadrants are up and being occupied. The work should be completed by Sunday.

Among those who have made the cubicles home is Janet Jinny, who moved here from Portland, Ore., with her fiance and her 11-month-old daughter to be with her fiance's sick mother.

Jinny, who created a living space with blankets and rugs within the confines of the partitions, said she and her baby go to a cousin's house or to the beach during the day while her fiance works a part-time job as a hotel housekeeper.

Another resident is Harry Mollomo, who stays at the shelter at night, then goes to work during the day.

"It's good for what it is," he said of the shelter.

"Mainly, it's legal."

The project is off to a good start, said Adrienne Gardner, a housing information specialist for the Hawai'i Community Development and Housing Corp.

"We have a few growing pains, but so far so good," Gardner said. She noted that officials are trying to get a fixed count of around 200, based on five- to seven-night stays.

"It'll be a small fixed population because we want to work with them one-on-one on getting them into more permanent fixed housing," she said.

Said Langi: "The folks here are very thankful for what they have and have shown interest in moving on without us having to push them."

There have been some issues, but they've been mostly worked out, he said.

"Drinking (alcohol) here is a big no-no and we escorted a couple of guys out. They came back the next day, we talked and I told them to consider it a first warning," Langi said. "We haven't had any trouble otherwise; people seem to be getting along."

He said some residents are close to making the transition to "the next step" permanent housing and jobs.

"It's my ultimate dream to introduce, as they leave here, our first graduates transitioning out, to the people coming in to take their places," Langi said. "We have some who are close ... it could happen in a month."

Staff photographer Richard Ambo contributed to this report.

Reach Rod Ohira at rohira@honoluluadvertiser.com.