A year ago, a large maintenance shed on the Ewa side of the Kakaako Waterfront Park parking lot was a dark and uninhabitable mass.
Today, it’s been turned into an open and airy facility, filled with bright orange accents, reflecting the new beginnings it is expected to bring to the more than 400 homeless people who will inhabit it over the next two years.
“(What) comes to mind, the ohia tree, the first flower, the first blossom that comes out of a lava flow, so it kind of symbolizes a new beginning and a new start to coming through this place and starting off on the right foot,” Russ Wozniak, an architect, designer and engineer from Group 70 International who helped plan the space, said during a media tour of the facility Thursday.
The Kakaako Family Assessment Center is not simply a homeless shelter. It’s a new model where the focus is on bringing homeless individuals and families in, matching them with programs and resources, and moving them into permanent, affordable housing as quickly as possible, according to Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator.
“So really the focus is to target unsheltered families with minor children, bring the families off the street, provide safety and stability, especially so that the children’s families can get connected to resources to be really on the right path,” he said.
The 24-hour facility, which used to be a maintenance shed for the Hawaii Community Development Authority, is expected to be able to accommodate up to 12 families or 50 individuals at a time, said Harold Brackeen III, who works with the state homeless programs office in the Department of Human Services.
The 5,000-square-foot facility has 14 cubicles with 4-foot walls. They’re divided into 8-by-8-foot and 8-by-4-foot spaces and can accommodate different family sizes.
That includes multigenerational and hanai families, though pets won’t be allowed.
Guests can only stay for 90 days or fewer, a time frame that the center’s service provider has said is doable based on its past experience, according to Brackeen. The state is scheduled announce the name of the service provider at a blessing ceremony Friday. Operations are expected to begin on Sept. 26, with an opening date to be set soon after.
Families are being identified through homeless outreach providers, working together with state agencies that conduct enforcement of private lands, Morishige said, and those who are unsheltered will take priority. The barriers for entry will be lower than other facilities: People won’t need identification or tuberculosis clearance to get in.
Part of the reason the center is located in Kakaako is because of the existing homeless family population in the urban core. The state also hopes to leverage partnerships with other service providers in the area, such as the Next Step Shelter.
Of the 400 individuals expected to stay at the center over the next two years, at least 80 percent of them are due to be transitioned into permanent housing.
To run it for two years, the state had set aside $900,000 a year from a pot of $12 million it got from the Legislature.
According to Morishige, the state wants to look at this as a limited term facility. While it’s in operation, the state will continue to invest in other parts of its homeless services system, like housing first and rapid rehousing. After the center’s two years are up, the facility will be converted back to the HCDA.
The state had a $750,000 budget to convert the shed. However, the project suffered a three-month delay thanks to the discovery of a broken sewage pump.
On Thursday, only small touch ups, such as putting together the outdoor picnic tables, were left. The facility also boasts lockers and wall-charging stations behind locked gates, so guests will have to be escorted in.
While there are no laundry facilities, there are indoor bathrooms with four toilets, four showers, one urinal, three sinks and two baby changing tables.