CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Skip Tomiyama and Grace Straub folded a tarp at Sand Island State Park yesterday. Tomiyama and Straub are part of a group opting not to use a state homeless shelter.
Group of homeless criticizes state shelter
A group of homeless people who were thrown out of Ala Moana Beach Park last month have left the state's temporary shelter in Kakaako because they say the homeless have no voice in how the facility is managed.
They also criticized the look and feel of the warehouse, calling it reminiscent of a "prison."
About 20 members of the homeless group Ohana O Hawaii started camping out at Sand Island State Park on Tuesday. Last night, a state parks keeper told them to leave after the park closed at 7:45 p.m., but they refused.
They say they are not sure where they will sleep tonight, but they have a permit to camp in the park this weekend.
Ohana President Leinati Matautia said Gov. Linda Lingle promised her that the group would have a "seat on the table" on decisions regarding the Ala Moana homeless. But, Matautia said, the group had no say on which site was chosen for the shelter. Their offer to help govern themselves in Kakaako was turned down, she said.
Laura Thielen, executive director of the Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance, which is overseeing the Kakaako shelter's management as part of a state contract, said homeless people at the shelter have been invited to participate in an advisory council, which will discuss how the shelter will be managed.
Ohana O Hawaii says the council is not enough.
"We're not society's rejects. We're humans. We're not children. We're all adults," Matautia said. "We're self-governed. We've proven that for the last 30 days."
Matautia added that the Kakaako shelter, which opened Monday, "looks like a slaughterhouse" and is bounded by barbed wire.
The group went to the new shelter at Pier 1 on Monday and ate dinner but did not spend the night there.
Matautia questioned a 10 p.m. curfew for those at the shelter and a rule that requires people to leave by 8 every morning. Many of the homeless who work have odd hours, Matautia said, noting one woman who decided not to stay at the shelter finishes work at 4 a.m.
Stephanie Aveiro, director of the state's housing agency, said she was disappointed to hear that Ohana O Hawaii members had left the shelter. She also said the group could not have managed the facility under state regulations, which is why an advisory council was formed.
"I was disappointed that they had left that night without giving it a chance," Aveiro said. "We did this with them in mind. We're providing a safe place for them to sleep at night. It was never more than that."
The Kakaako facility attracted 72 people on Monday night and 158 on Tuesday, including 15 children. It is unclear how many at the shelter were among those kicked out of Ala Moana Park on March 27, when the city decided to institute a night-closure policy for the park.
Thielen said social workers recognize many of those at the shelter as homeless people they have seen at Ala Moana Park. All homeless families, regardless of where they have been staying, are welcome at the shelter.
Ohana O Hawaii was formed at Kawaiaha'o Church in the days after the city's ousting of homeless from Ala Moana Park. Many of those in the organization have known each other for years.
Matautia, who is known as "Mama Lei" or "Auntie Lei," amassed a following at Ala Moana by cooking dinner for dozens of other homeless people almost nightly on a hot plate fitted into a shopping cart.
She was voted president of the group after being arrested in front of City Hall on March 27 during a protest of the city's Ala Moana closure.
Yesterday, members of the group had set up a large party tent at Sand Island and were already accruing donations of food and camping supplies from churches and other groups.