Proposed Kalihi homeless shelter opposed by some in community

The Institute for Human Services, which runs The Shelter, is receiving more pushback from area residents regarding the proposed homeless triage and transfer station slated to be in Kalihi.

In a plan to use $2.6 million in federal grant money, IHS had proposed the Homeless Triage and CARES Center, which would offer the homeless a place to clean and feed themselves, and offer COVID-19 relief services. The goal of the program is to pull the homeless off of the streets and “out of communities where they are unwelcome.”

IHS recently dealt with rejection from Chinatown last month— where the program was originally proposed at a three-story building at 65 N. Ber­etania St. — resulting in aborting the location.

Executive Director Connie Mitchell said the program was mistaken for a homeless shelter by the Chinatown community.

“I think that people were so sensitized to the impact of homelessness in their area,” she said in an interview. “They really could not tolerate one more homelessness ser­v­ice provider in their community, which I think is really sad because I thought we brought different kinds of services to the community. But we’re still working to address the more challenging homeless people in the neighborhood.”

Mitchell added that IHS is looking to establish the program at other locations if it doesn’t work out at the peach-colored, two-story building on North King Street in Kalihi. Downstairs would be for unemployment services, and upstairs would be the triage-and-transfer station.

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But so far, there has been opposition from some of the residents.

Janice Onishi is one of the owners of the Terada Apartments, which is next door to the proposed program.

“I was horrified,” she said in an interview. “I found out from my friend, who said, ‘Oh, did you see your building on the news?’”

To make their stance clear, Onishi and about 15 Kalihi residents protested outside of the building all last week.

Rector David Gierlach of Saint Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church, whose building is in the same neighborhood where IHS wants its program, said the need for the services is urgent.

He said there should be assistance for those who may be on the brink of being homeless because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I understand the ‘not in my backyard’ mentality, but we are a community and we have to take care of each other,” he said. “Because we’re in Kalihi, there’s a population that needs to be served.”

Council member Carol Fukunaga, who opposed a homeless triage center in Chinatown, said in an interview that some Kalihi residents contacted her about their concerns of their neighborhood “ending up like Chinatown.”

According to Fukunaga, the main issue for Chinatown businesses and neighbors against the IHS program was “the lack of consultation and advance notice.”

In an effort to receive community feedback, Mitchell said, IHS reached out to the Kalihi community for input, and she said the residents were in support.

“We’re here to help, but we’re also wanting to hear more from the communities to see what we can do best,” Mitchell said. “In the meantime we continue the work with the people we are working with, and we’ll keep trying to help people get the treatment that they need.”

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