The state’s newest homeless shelter opened its doors Sept. 28 with the intent to transition its clients into permanent housing within 90 days.
Three months later, the Kakaako Family Assessment Center has made some headway in meeting that goal.
The center has served 17 families and has placed six into new homes, said Program Director Adrian Contreras.
Two families moved into permanent housing and another four moved into transitional housing, he said, adding another family will move into permanent housing early this week, with three more families to follow after that.
The state-run program operated by Catholic Charities Hawaii is testing out a rapid rehousing model that focuses on matching clients with resources and programs to return homeless folk to housing as quickly as possible.
A year ago, a large homeless encampment had formed in Kakaako along Ohe Street and at Waterfront Park where about 300 people lived in tents and beneath tarps. Only a few homeless people are there now.
The Kakaako Family Assessment Center isn’t the only program working to address homelessness in the area. About a mile away, Next Step Shelter operated by Waikiki Health along Pier 1 shares the goal of getting its clients into permanent housing within 90 days and is also using a new model to try and make it happen.
Both shelters will soon have to follow new state rules that aim to expedite the shelter-to-housing process.
Open 24 hours a day, the Kakaako Family Assessment Center works by connecting clients to social services, housing and placement programs and other resources to help them be ready to move into a new home.
Contreras said that the center relies on support from the community and has partnered with 23 programs and providers, including the state Department of Education, The Institute for Human Services, Helping Hands Hawaii and Next Step Shelter.
“Being able to kind of coordinate these services for the family helps stabilize their environment enough so they can kind of plan their next steps, receive the documents, make the next appointment, make the next connection,” he said.
Emmie Phillip is an interpreter and translator who moved into the Kakaako Family Assessment Center in late September with her three children, ages 12, 15 and 18. Prior to that, they were living in an apartment on Date Street where the monthly rent was $1,400.
“I was really struggling as a single parent,” Phillip said. “It was a hardship on me. I couldn’t afford it so I was looking for a (new) place.”
She went to Family Promise Hawaii, which runs interfaith networks that aim to help families escape homelessness, and was referred to the new shelter.
She continued working during their stay, saving money for a new apartment.
“I’m thankful for that because … it took off a lot of stress from me,” she said. “It was like a big stress relief because every day every night I was thinking about my rent, my security deposit, things like that.”
Phillip and her three children moved out of the center Nov. 17 and into a one-bedroom apartment at Housing Solutions‘ Vancouver House, a transitional housing program in Manoa. Her rent is lower, and now her goal is to go back to school, find a new job and save up to buy a house.
Nearby, Next Step Shelter is housed in a nearly 32,000-square-foot warehouse along Pier 1. On any given night, the shelter might be home to about 230 people, said Jason Espero, director of homeless services for Waikiki Health, the nonprofit that has run the shelter since 2011.
The shelter started the clock on its own 90-day goal Aug. 8, after meeting with officials from the Hawaii Community Foundation’s HousingASAP network, a group of nonprofit service providers.
Next Step was already using a “housing first” approach, in which homeless people receive services with few or no requirements attached, so that they can have a foundation to achieve stability. The shelter does not require clients to be clean and sober and imposes few rules.
Now clients work with one of the shelter’s eight housing “navigators,” who focus on stabilizing them and creating individualized housing plans.
As a result, “clients are more self sufficient, more highly motivated and they have received the support and assistance that they need so that they can be housing-stable,” Espero said.
The approach has modestly decreased the average shelter stay. Previously, clients were staying at the shelter for an average of 201 days before they moved into permanent housing. Since the model was put into place, clients’ stays have decreased to 190 days, Espero said.
That still far exceeds the 90-day goal, and now the state wants shelters to transition clients into permanent housing even faster. Next Step is facing new state requirements that say half of its clients need to move into permanent housing within 60 days.
The new time frame is part of a set of state requirements addressing issues such as how much space each client should have, how many bathrooms a shelter needs to have and how clients should be prepared for housing.
They’re part of the state Department of Human Services’ request for proposals to enter into new state funding contracts to provide shelter services at 11 state-owned facilities. Current contracts expire Jan. 31.
The intent is to ensure state DHS-funded programs provide shelter services that protect the health of both participants and staff and enable homeless people to get permanent housing as quickly as possible, according to the DHS request.
Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator, said the Kakaako Family Assessment Center appears to already be in compliance with the rules, even though its contract is not expiring.