The state will convert a 5,000-square-foot maintenance shed behind the University of Hawaii medical school in Kakaako into a temporary homeless shelter that could house up to 240 people a year, Scott Morishige, the governor’s coordinator on homelessness, announced Tuesday.

Gov. David Ige’s leadership team has long been considering the shed as one of several possible spots for a new shelter to house Hawaii’s growing homeless population.

The now-vacant shed, owned by the Hawaii Community Development Authority, sits adjacent to Kakaako Waterfront Park — near the site of what was once Honolulu’s biggest homeless encampment, which the city spent weeks clearing out starting in September.

“The shelter site was identified after a thorough vetting process that took into account feedback from shelter providers and homeless families,” Morishige said in a statement.

Rep. Sylvia Luke holds HCDA maintenance shed photograph with left, Sen Jill Tokuda during press conference on homeless at the Governor's office. 17 aug 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
In August, state Sen. Jill Tokuda, left, and state Rep. Sylvia Luke visited the maintenance shed that Gov. David Ige’s leadership team is turning into a temporary homeless shelter. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The Hawaii Department of Human Services is still discussing the shelter’s design and programs with service providers, but it plans to deviate from a traditional shelter model by operating the facility 24 hours a day and limiting the length of stay to 90 days.

The department will solicit for bids in mid-December for a contract to manage the shelter, which is expected to be up and running by February and in operation for two years.

The preliminary work for the conversion is already underway at the shed, which is equipped with the basic plumbing infrastructure needed for a shower and bathroom, according to Ige’s office.

Soil testing has already been conducted, and the structural integrity of the building has been checked after the interior was gutted. The cost for the conversion is expected to be $750,000.

Once completed, the shelter could accommodate up to 60 individuals — or 15 families — at a time and function as an “entry point” for their transition to longer-term housing facilities, according to Ige’s office. Two portable trailers will also be installed on the site to serve as office space for the shelter’s service provider.

Morishige says the ideas for other shelter sites will be shelved for now. “We want to monitor the impact that the city’s Sand Island shelter facility as well as this new shelter will have before we make any decision on other potential shelter sites,” he said.

Morishige added: “We wanted to address the immediate need for homeless families in our current system, but we really want to keep the focus on the longer-term and try to move people quickly out of homelessness and into permanent housing.”

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