City purchases Iwilei building for housing, homeless services

Local News

State and City officials unveiled Wednesday a new facility designed to help Honolulu’s homeless.

The City and County of Honolulu recently purchased the four-story building at 431 Kuwili Street which will be used for permanent supportive housing and homeless services, including a hygiene center.

Officials want to offer services to the chronically homeless, those addicted to drugs or alcohol, and those with mental illness.

“There is a tremendous need for housing and services for people experiencing chronic homelessness in Iwilei,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. “We’ve listened to concerns from area residents and businesses, worked with the City Council – especially Councilmember Joey Manahan – and are making a substantial investment in this neighborhood and its future. The programming that will be provided at this building has the potential to be a game changer for Iwilei and a template for other areas of Oahu. We look forward to continuing to work with the Council, State, businesses, nonprofits, and the community to see this through.”

The first floor of the building will become a hygiene center that includes restrooms, showers, and laundry machines, modeled after facilities in the Pacific Northwest. The City Council included in the upcoming annual budget $2 million in capital funds and $1 million in operational funds to operate the Iwilei hygiene center.

Pauahi Hale, home to the city’s existing hygiene center opened in 2015 and is the first-of-its-kind in Hawaii, serves 60-70 clients daily in the heart of Chinatown, and the city expects the Iwilei hygiene center to serve even more.

“I’m happy and proud that Iwilei will be home to our first full service hygiene center with drop-in services and permanent supportive housing,” said Councilmember Joey Manahan. “It’s the first of its kind in the City and the State, and it represents the all hands on deck approach we need to take in government in order for us to effectively address the homelessness and housing crisis in Honolulu and the State of Hawai’i. I’d like to thank the governor and the mayor for their support of the City Council’s budget that assists all Council districts in providing housing solutions to get us beyond crisis mode and help in the fight to end homelessness in Honolulu.”

Supportive services, which may include case management, mental and physical health care, counseling, substance abuse treatment, and/or job training and placement, will be housed on the second floor of the building.

After Wednesday’s announcement, KHON2 went into the neighborhood to see what people thought of the new center. Some say they’re worried it’ll attract even more homeless to the area.

Dozens of tents are propped up along the sidewalks of Iwilei — near the old Kmart location, the Institute for Human Services, and around several streets in the area.

“You can come in the next morning and they have built an entire city with tents and boxes, and they got their laundry laid out all over the place,” said a business owner who didn’t want to be identified. “I think it’s just going to cause more of the homeless people that are in Kakaako or down at the other parks to then migrate this direction and they are all just going to live on this side.”

Larry Heim, president of Honblue, a business that’s been in the area for the last 50 years, says one of his employees was attacked a few years ago in that area.

“Could it be in someone else’s neighborhood? Yes, but the reality is our neighborhood has these services that is being provided by IHS already and I think more of those services are going to help mitigate our immediate issues here in this neighborhood,” Heim said.

Major John Chamness, divisional leader of The Salvation Army Hawaiian and Pacific Islands Division, applauds the idea, calling it a step in the right direction.

“Studies have shown that providing these services to individuals who are homeless or have substance abuse problems enhance their chances of success in breaking these cycles,” he said in a statement. “In addition, we know from our own experience and data from our Family Treatment Services program, clients who agree to services and remain engaged have very good outcomes in terms of their recovery, housing, parenting, and the ability to be active participants in the community.”

The City and State are exploring a collaborative effort to leverage State behavioral health resources and expertise to serve clients at the project. A minimum of 35 permanent supportive housing units will be constructed on the third and fourth floors.

“This project underscores the power of the state’s Emergency Proclamation on Homelessness,” said Gov. David Ige. “It is the most recent example of the way the state can facilitate increased efficiency and collaboration. The fifth supplemental Emergency Proclamation, which I signed on Monday, extends the momentum for another 60 days and enables projects like this one to more rapidly become a reality.”

Manahan says they are looking at expanding the sit-lie law to Iwilei, and installing portable restrooms in the area until the center opens.

The building was built by the Sasaki family in 1976 and was once home to Malihini Sportswear.

The City used $6.3 million in general obligation bonds to purchase the 43,000-square-foot building. This money came from $64 million allocated by the City Council over the last two fiscal years to invest in housing and shelter for people experiencing or susceptible to falling into homelessness.

In addition to this project, the Office of Strategic Development has used the City Council funding to acquire properties in Makiki and Waianae, and is currently performing due diligence on other potential purchases.

A Request for Proposals (RFP) will be issued to select a contractor to perform improvements on the property and a second RFP will be issued to select a service provider to operate the facility.

There’s no timeline for when it’ll open or who will run it.

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