CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Thomas Palmeira worked for his "village bucks" recently, cleaning his tools after doing some gardening at the Onelau'ena shelter in Kapolei. CLICK FOR LARGE
A Sheltered Life
Homeless residents follow rules and learn basic skills to help them attain permanent housing
» FIRST | SECOND | THIRD OF THREE PARTS
LIFE in a shelter could mean sleeping on a cot in a cubicle, or a bed in a 144-square-foot room, with a dresser and microwave oven.
It means sharing a common space with more than 100 other people who are also struggling. It also means there's a prescribed program and schedule, working for "village bucks" to earn one's keep, for instance -- a far cry from the freedom in an apartment.
At the same time, it may be a chance to move on to a better place.
As the state spends an unprecedented $10.8 million rolling out new emergency and transitional shelters, more of Hawaii's unsheltered homeless now have a roof over their heads at night.
To date, the Hawaii Public Housing Authority estimates there are about 1,578 shelter units in the state, with the newest addition being Pai'olu Kaiaulu at the former Civic Center site in Waianae. More are expected, including an emergency and transitional shelter on Kauai by midsummer.
It has selected various agencies to run the shelters.
Like housing, however, the demand for a bed in a shelter outstrips the supply.
"Even with the cubicles, we've been pretty much at capacity since the day we opened," said Doren Porter, executive director of the Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance, the lead agency running Next Step, along with the Waikiki Health Center and H-5 (Hawaii Helping the Hungry Have Hope).
Next Step, an emergency shelter the state converted from an abandoned Kakaako warehouse in May of last year, has provided a roof for many displaced by the nighttime closure of Ala Moana Beach Park.
To date, it is home to about 270 residents, about a quarter of them children.
They sleep in cubicles separated into three sections: families with children, single moms and couples and men. The cubicles are personalized with stuffed animals, pictures and maybe a sheet draped over the top to provide privacy.
Bathrooms and showers offering hot water are in a separate mobile unit outside of the shelter.
But Next Step's future is tenuous, as its lease runs out in early 2008.
"We really do need an urban shelter," said Porter. "That's where the need is, and if you don't have it, you're going to have a lot more homeless in the urban core."
Waianae Community Outreach is running the Onelau'ena shelter in Kalaeloa, which opened in a converted military building in the fall.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Marina Dominquez, left, purchased food recently using "village bucks" for her family of seven in the sundries shop at the Onelau'ena shelter in Kapolei. "Village bucks" are earned with chores, or attending classes at the shelter. Picking out food, which is monitored closely, for Dominquez was Kamalei Smith, middle, and Peggy Savella. CLICK FOR LARGE
AT ONELAU'ENA, residents are expected to earn their keep.
Kanani Bulawan, program manager, said she uses L.O.R.D. (Living Our Responsibility Daily) as her guiding principle.
A studio unit costs $400 a month in village bucks, the in-house scrip that is earned by attending classes and doing chores. Going to class equals eight village bucks.
If the residents do not earn their keep, their stay will be terminated.
Bulawan said the village buck system is designed to build self-worth and create motivation. The goal, after all, is to transition out of the shelter. The maximum stay is about eight months.
"Because nothing is for free," she said. "It's better for you to earn what you get than to give handouts. We believe instead in giving a hand up."
Village bucks also are redeemable at the in-house sundry shop.
Besides housing, the individuals often need help developing basic living skills such as better parenting, anger management, financial management and literacy.
Bulawan said rather than encouraging individuals to jump at the first job available, the program teaches them to strategize.
"If you need $3,000 a month to afford your family the basics, you cannot flip hamburgers at McDonalds," said Bulawan. "What is it you really need, and are you educated enough and do you have the skills you need?"
Onelau'ena's doors are closed between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., with exceptions for those who work late hours. Smoking is allowed outside during only two 15-minute windows -- once at midnight and once at 2 a.m.
Bulawan says rules are established for a reason, and that anyone who lives in a shelter will need to understand that life comes with rules.
As at Onelau'ena, residents of Next Step earn scrip for helping out with cleaning, and then redeem it for donated goods, some of it as basic as shampoo.
Nonprofit groups, churches and students from the medical school next door, who run the Hawaii Homeless Outreach and Medical Education (H.O.M.E.) Program, offer services.
Next Step is open from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. Residents must leave the premises when it is closed, although they may store their belongings there. Dinner is served every evening, thanks to donations, but there is no breakfast in the morning.
Success in a shelter is measured by those who move on. At Next Step, Porter says 160 have moved out, 40 of them into market-rate housing, since the shelter opened.
Bulawan said many former residents from Onelau'ena have also moved on, to public housing, other transitional facilities, or to a shared housing situation.
Even as the state builds more shelters -- $10 million has been set aside for a transitional village in Maili -- there is a need for others. Wahiawa, for example, is an underserved area, as is the North Shore, said Porter.
Tomorrow: Shunning the shelters
NEW HAWAII HOMELESS SHELTERS
||AHA, Waikiki Health Center, H-5
||Waianae Community Outreach
|Waipahu Lighthouse Outreach Shelter
||Assembly of God
||U.S. Vets Hawaii
|Kahikolu 'Ohana Hale 'O Wai'anae *
||Hawaii Coalition of Christian Churches
|Ho'olanani women's shelter
|| Kahului, Maui
||Family Life Center
|Kauai Economic Opportunity Inc.**
| emergency and transitional shelter
* Expected to open in 2008 ** Expected to open mid-summer
Source: Hawaii Public Housing Authority
» On the Web: For other shelters, run by the state as well as non-profits, go to www.hcdch.state.hi.us. Click on Frequently Asked Questions/Homeless Programs