Head of Hawaii homeless shelter put on leave amid complaints
By Will Hoover
Advertiser Wai'anae Coast Writer
By Will Hoover
A pastor who is executive director at a state-funded Wai'anae homeless shelter will be placed on administrative leave effective Friday and an interim director appointed to take over.
Pastor Wade "Boo" Soares, head of the Kahikolu 'Ohana Hale 'O Wai'anae shelter, has been asked to step aside amid a widening inquiry into its operations, said Russ Saito, state homeless solutions coordinator.
As reported in The Advertiser last month, Soares is accused of requiring residents to attend mandatory religion classes or face eviction, threatening and intimidating staff and clients, and taking in people who have not been verified as homeless.
Saito added yesterday that other, "more serious" allegations have been turned over to the state attorney general's office for review. He would not elaborate on those allegations.
Soares did not return telephone calls yesterday. In the past, he has defended his operation and denied the allegations against him. He has said the complaints are unfair and that he has been singled out because of tough decisions he has made in helping frequently troubled homeless people return to the social mainstream.
Weighing 350 pounds and standing more than 6 feet tall, Soares is an imposing figure well known in the community as "Pastor Boo."
"I cannot shove my Jesus down anybody's throat," Soares told The Advertiser last month. "It would be against the law."
In addition to the complaints from residents, a preliminary state audit of the shelter found it was deficient in 32 of 44 categories.
Since that audit, conducted in February, a more in-depth examination has been launched by the Hawaii Public Housing Authority. The Department of Human Services has begun its own investigation into contract compliance and civil rights issues.
Saito said the Department of Human Services investigation and Housing Authority's second audit should take about two months to complete.
Saito said the shelter's board agreed to his recommendation that Soares be placed on leave pending the outcome of the inquiries.
Saito said state agencies began receiving allegations of favoritism and discrimination at the shelter from clients and workers within several weeks of its opening on Aug. 20. Similar complaints were also being voiced at monthly Nanakuli/Ma'ili Neighborhood Board housing committee meetings.
On Feb. 19, four caseworkers filed complaints against Soares with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission. Caseworker Caroline Lopez complained at the time that Soares undermined her ability to advocate for clients through decisions based on his religious convictions.
Meanwhile, the February audit examined random files to rate how well the shelter's administrative, service, case management and fiscal standards complied with the terms of the contract between the state and Kahikolu.
That report concluded that of 44 areas reviewed, only eight were in compliance. The facility or executive director were deemed "not passing" in 32 areas, "needs improvement" in three, and "not applicable" in one.
Among the findings were examples of Soares waiving the homeless verification process, which the report said violates the contract. Other findings said the facility's termination process "does not clearly delineate what acts will result in termination ..." (and) that the outcome of any appeals "reside with the HPHA, not the ... shelter executive director."
The 72-unit transitional and low-income affordable rental project began as a faith-based initiative that fills 4 acres once occupied by an Uluwehi apartment complex that was demolished in 2005. Hawai'i taxpayers contributed more than $13 million to the facility.
Reach Will Hoover at firstname.lastname@example.org.