Over the next two years, Kakaako’s newest homeless center will try to place hundreds of people into permanent housing within 90 days.
That work began last week when the Kakaako Family Assessment Center opened its doors to its first four families.
Now the challenge is to figure out where the new facility fits in with Honolulu’s existing network of homeless service providers — and how to accomplish that 90-day turnaround to permanent housing.
“We’re not trying to replace existing relationships with the housing navigation and the other places,” said the center’s Program Director Adrian Contreras. “It’s more, ‘Okay where can we fit in, how far along are you with this place, does this place know what you’re doing here.’”
With four families arriving each week, the center is expected to reach capacity by mid-October. But because some of the first families are large, the center is already half-full, said Rona Fukumoto, Catholic Charities Hawaii’s division administrator for housing assistance.
Catholic Charities Hawaii is the center’s service provider. The state funding of $900,000 a year is only for two years, so after that the facility will likely be converted back into a Hawaii Community Development Authority storage shed.
Overall, about 12 families — 50 people — can be accommodated at a time. Over two years, more than 400 people are expected to inhabit the center, with at least 80 percent transitioning to permanent housing.
The main priority is to bring in unsheltered families, Fukumoto said.
Families were identified through homeless outreach providers and interviews conducted by center staff. There are minimal qualifications; for instance, a tuberculosis clearance and ID are not needed. Being housing-ready is not required, but depending on their situation, the center may transition some families to another program.
“Even in that situation, the family will be on a track to securing permanent housing – they may simply need more time,” Fukumoto said.
The facility will operate 24 hours a day, with two staff members present for each eight-hour shift. They’ll help connect clients to social services, housing and placement programs, and will provide resources to help them be ready for paying rent and security deposits.
“I think if we make a commitment to addressing and providing the needs and referral points for other places in the community to assist us in this task, and that’s day to day, week to week, when we pan out in 90 days, I think we’ll be confident that we can demonstrate nice outcomes and have people exit into housing,” Contreras said.
In fiscal year 2015, homeless people in Hawaii spent an average of 101 days in emergency shelters and 310 days in transitional shelters, according to a University of Hawaii report. Almost 28 percent of them exited emergency shelters into permanent housing. That rate was about 64 percent for transitional shelters.
For rapid rehousing – the model that Contreras says the Kakaako center follows – the average length of stay was 120 days, with 73 percent of program users exiting into permanent housing. Rapid rehousing programs provide targeted support to those who have recently become homeless so that they can return to housing as quickly as possible.
Some people are skeptical that the center will be able to reach its 90-day goal.
Timothy Nakamura, a former resident of the Kumuhonua Transitional Living Center in Kapolei, said 90 days is not enough time to find permanent housing. It took him nearly two years to find a place he could afford.
The center has a two-year maximum stay for its residents, which Nakamura said allowed him to save money for the security deposits he needed when he secured his Ewa Beach rental.
According to Tehani Diaz, director of community services for the Honolulu Community Action Program, the center uses its partnerships and networks to secure housing for residents. Typically, its residents find housing within one year, said Michael Hane, HCAP director of planning, program development and communications.
The center requires that tenants have a stable source of income, which Hane says helps them move on more quickly.
Diaz noted the time residents spend in the center depends on circumstances such as how much money they’ve saved and what their credit histories are.
Robert Quayle, a current resident at Kumuhonua, says he’s an example that 90 days is not enough time; after nearly two years at the center, he’s still having trouble finding a place because of his criminal background.
“As for the housing, your 90-day thing, that’s a person I guess that’s got no criminal background, got money, and they just had a bad stroke of luck and they’re ready to get back out,” he said.
Contreras said he’ll have to see how advocacy and conversations can change how landlords feel about taking on previously homeless tenants that are at-risk or have criminal histories. However, if landlords know that the tenant is receiving services that will continue past placement in a home, they’ll feel less exposed.
He acknowledges that for many homeless people, it’s easier to slip back into the pattern than to break out of it.
“Now you’re talking about a monthly rent, now you’re talking about coming home and cooking as opposed to utilizing the food pantry or anything like that. Those are big deals, and so recovery is tough,” Contreras said. “And if somebody can be there to assist at least in the initial phases, maybe housing retention can be much more fruitful, can be much more gainful.”
The Kakaako Family Assessment Center is not alone in its 90-day goal. At Sand Island, the Institute for Human Services’ Hale Mauliola Housing Navigation Center, which acts as a portal toward permanent housing, shares that objective, though the center is for individuals and couples without children.
According to Kimo Carvalho, IHS director of community relations, the shorter length of stay compared to emergency and transitional shelters is because the center serves homeless people who are ready and willing to quickly move into housing. This means their clients have identification, a financial plan and can address and maintain their social and health concerns.
When the center opened in November, the goal was to get clients into housing within 60 days.
That changed when IHS noticed clients tended to stay for an average of 90 days, Carvalho said.
But as of July, the average length of stay at Hale Mauliola before placement in housing has dropped to 54 days. Besides permanent housing, individuals and couples could also go into places like senior care homes and adult foster care.
Carvalho attributes the center’s success to its relationships with landlords and property managers and its array of services available to clients.
He adds that IHS also has a family dorm, where residents move into permanent housing after average stays of 102 days.
Waikiki Health Center’s Next Step Shelter also has a 90-day goal for its families, individuals and couples. Mary Beth Lohman, its director of marketing and development, declined to comment for this report.
Honolulu is not the only place trying programs with shorter transition periods.
For two centers in Phoenix and San Diego, 90-day turnarounds into permanent housing are also trying to connect services to the individual needs of their clients.
The Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development’s Emergency Housing Program in Phoenix is a nightly, low-barrier-to-entry, 30-bed emergency shelter for people ages 18 to 25. Within 48 hours, they’re connected to an off-site case manager.
During the day, they go to Tumbleweed’s youth resource centers and meet with their case managers to discuss their service goals.
While the goal is to get them into stable housing within 90 days, Director of Programs Vivien Mann stresses that it’s not guaranteed.
Sometimes, residents will stick around for months, she said. And other times, they will leave because they can become self sufficient in 30 to 45 days.
The idea is similar at the YWCA San Diego’s Cortez Hill Family Center, where homeless families are connected with case management services on the day they arrive. The 24-hour shelter will take any homeless family, and while the objective is to get them into permanent housing in 90 days, some may need to go to transitional housing first.
According to Melissa Peterman, San Diego Housing Commission vice president of the Homeless Housing Innovations Department, the center just ended its first 90-day period, which began on July 1. It was previously a 120-day program.
“I think part of what has changed in our service delivery is that focus on permanent housing on day one,” she said. “The housing commission has partnered with the YWCA on a rapid rehousing for families program, so that’s also providing an additional resource to those families to help them exit to permanent housing within that 90-day period.”