STAR-BULLETIN / NOVEMBER 2006
The Next Step shelter will remain open past its original March deadline to vacate, until early 2008. Above, shelter residents are served Thanksgiving dinner.
Homeless shelter gets a second life
Residents expecting to be forced out in March will be able to stay through this year
Kahale Mendonca is relieved he'll get more time to build savings so he can leave a homeless shelter in Kakaako and move into a place of his own.
The Next Step shelter will remain open past its original March deadline to vacate, until early 2008.
"I was kind of worried about it. The parks are already crowded with the homeless. It is helping me. I got a place to stay and a roof over my head," said Mendonca, who left his father's home last year, leaving him on the street, he said.
The Hawaii Public Housing Authority, which oversees the shelter, has extended the current month-to-month lease to 2008.
Sandy Miyoshi, HPHA's homeless program administrator, said that although the lease is not for a full year, "we have assurances from all over it will be at least another year."
The housing authority has contracted with the nonprofit Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance, which is operating the shelter for the state. The contract begins Aug. 1 and ends July 31, 2008, Miyoshi said.
But the shelter in the warehouse on the 5-acre lot next to the University of Hawaii's medical school must vacate sometime in early 2008 so the Office of Hawaiian Affairs can begin building a native Hawaiian cultural center and headquarters.
Last May, the state opened the shelter after the city closed Ala Moana Beach Park, leaving the homeless with no place to go. The warehouse was renovated in three days at a cost of $200,000 to the state. Homeless filled the shelter, which was originally expected to stay open until next month.
The shelter, which houses up to 300 people, is full, with children under the age of 18 making up at least a third of the residents, said shelter manager Utu Langi.
The shelter has helped some people find homes, while others were happy to have a few more months to save and prepare to move on, he said.
"It's working. I think we're starting to get into the stride of things," he said.
Since opening, officials have helped more than 45 people progress to transitional housing, Miyoshi said. From there they await openings in permanent affordable housing.
Miyoshi said the state will search for another location to replace the Kakaako warehouse. "We'll be making an aggressive attempt to find another site to accommodate the clients there," she said.
However, she pointed out the shelter is not meant to be permanent. More transitional housing and affordable housing should lessen the need for the emergency shelters, she said.
Stanton Enomoto, OHA administrator's special assistant, said OHA is doing survey work in the area, looking for hazardous substances, and will begin details on a site plan to secure funding for the building.
Enomoto said the two-story center will provide a venue to showcase cultural activities such as weaving, feather-making and storytelling, while providing educational spaces and connecting the center with the Kakaako waterfront.
OHA's first native Hawaiian cultural center is expected to open in 2010, Enomoto said.