The good news for the 90 or so men living at the Next Step homeless shelter in Kakaako is that the hot water could be fixed as early as Tuesday.

It’s been on and off — mostly off — since at least November, and maybe longer.

The bad news is that the men, women and children — about 200 in all — at Next Step will still have to make do with a roof that leaks like a sieve during rainstorms.

And bedbugs, roaches and rats.

And that’s despite the $1 million a year the state spends to operate it.

“We want it to be as good a place as it can be, but it will never be a perfect place,” said Darlene Hein of the Waikiki Health Center, which contracts with the state to run the facility. “It’s a warehouse with people living in cubicles. We are trying to do our best and fixing what we can.”

But at least one longtime user of the facility says he fears that the shelter is beyond help.

“The thing that I found out is that this place is a mess,” said David Cannell. “It is run very poorly, and the hot water is just the latest saga. It’s not a shelter — it’s a homeless abyss.”

Supposed to be Temporary

The Kakaako shelter was supposed to be a short-term fix to a longterm problem.

It opened in 2006 during the administration of former Gov. Linda Lingle, at a time when she was clashing with then-Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann over what to do to alleviate homelessness.

Next Step was housed in the makai end of a 36,000-square-foot warehouse under control of the Hawaii Community Development Authority. It’s located on state land along Pier One, near Kakaako Beach Park and UH School of Medicine.

But plans to open another facility never materialized, and Next Step remained a shelter, one of the three largest on Oahu.

The nonprofit Waikiki Health Center, a federally qualified health center, was one of three organizations involved in running Next Step. The other two groups, both nonprofits, were the Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance and H-5, which stands for Hawaii Helping the Hungry Have Hope.

Waikiki Health Center secured the contract from H-5 in August, said Hein, and began management Nov. 1. The contract amounts to about $1 million annually in state funds.

Residents are allowed to store their belongings in their cubicles but must stay away from the shelter weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., though it is open around the clock on weekends and holidays.

In addition to single men, Next Step houses single women, couples and children. They are required to carry identification and check in with a guard shack on Forrest Avenue.

But Next Step is not permanent. The shower facilities for men and women are in construction trailers on the Ewa side of the warehouse.

Hein said her group found out about the hot water problem in the men’s shower only a month ago. An electrician and plumber were called.

“Yes, the roof is leaking, and it will cost a lot of money to fix,” said Hein. “That is up to the state and the HCDA to decide. And they are probably waiting to see what happens with OHA first.”

The Pier One Kakaako parcel is part of the 25 acres that the state has proposed giving to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to settle past-due ceded-land revenue payments, a deal that is moving through the Hawaii Legislature.

While HCDA would still administer the Kakaako land, and existing leases would be honored until they expire, OHA would own the land. The Waikiki Health Center’s lease is for five years, but she didn’t know whether the warehouse property — valued at $22 million — would continue under new ownership.

‘A Never-Ending Battle’

Cannell, his wife Evelyn and son Jonathan became homeless seven years ago, he said, after Cannell lost his job working for a moving company. His wife and son lived at Next Step for a spell, but now live in a park in Kailua.

“They refuse to live there” because of the bad conditions, Cannell said.

Cannell is in a wheelchair and lives off of Social Security disability payments. He said others share his view but are scared to speak up.

“We are exposing the lies that this is a homeless shelter — that all people can just go there,” he said. “You are almost better off on the street.”

But, Hein, a longtime advocate for the homeless, said Next Step is better than living on the street. She said Next Step contracts with an exterminator to deal with the pest problem. Water no longer pools in the parking lot. And screens were installed to deter birds from flying inside.

“Birds came in and pooped,” she said.

The bedbugs are more tricky; cubicles may get cleaned, but unless clothes and belongings are also cleaned, the insects remain.

“It’s a never-ending battle, and we are always working on it,” she said. “Everyone has a right to complain. If I was in there I would probably complain too. But people need these services all year round.”


Hein adds that, despite its problems, Next Step’s services are very much in demand. Every week homeless people line up to be accepted into the facility.

Cannell doesn’t blame Hein for the problems at the shelter.

“She’s a good lady, but she’s overwhelmed,” he said.

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