‘Safe house’ opens to provide support for at-risk teen girls
HONOKAA, Hawaii » The state has opened its first "safe house" providing special supervision for teenage girls at a former teachers' cottage in Honokaa, 40 miles north of Hilo.
Called Ke Kama Pono, loosely translated as Children of Promise, the eight-bed facility will initially serve six girls 13 to 17 years old who commit violations such as skipping school or who commit nonviolent crimes that do not warrant placing them at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility on Oahu.
"These aren't predators," said state Department of Human Services Director Lillian Koller yesterday at opening ceremonies. "They're not bad kids. They need love and support, and they need to be safe."
The facility is under the Office of Youth Services, attached to Koller's department. The Salvation Army is contracted to run it for $650,000 a year.
The Salvation Army also operates a "residential treatment home" in Hilo and another in Kona. Although similar to those, the safe house is smaller and will have more restrictions against the girls leaving the grounds, said Youth Services Director Sharon Agnew.
However, the safe house will provide off-site education for the girls, essentially their own small school, Agnew said. They will also receive substance abuse treatment and other services.
The facility was offered to communities statewide, but only Honokaa accepted, Agnew said.
"The Big Island is sensitive and open to services," Agnew said. "It's a very caring community."
Koller said she hopes eventually to have such facilities for boys and girls throughout the state.
The Honokaa facility cost $60,000 to renovate the cottage, which had been used by the state Department of Health.
Besides providing more appropriate care, the safe house will help relieve crowding at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility.
The state has been criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union since 2003 for overcrowding and alleged brutality at the Kailua facility. The ACLU filed a federal suit against the department this week to halt alleged continuing abuse.
Last year, the ACLU criticized the department for temporarily sending seven girls to a detention center in Utah instead of finding a facility for them in Hawaii.
The Honokaa safe home will help make such transfers unnecessary, Koller said.