State contracts that support homeless shelter operations will fund nearly 200 more shelter beds in 2017 compared to last year, Gov. David Ige announced Thursday.

That’s despite concerns that a new state law regulating shelters could force some operators to cut the number of beds available for homeless people or close altogether.

Ige announced the 33 new contracts worth $13 million at a press conference Thursday afternoon in Kakaako behind the Family Assessment Center, a yellow shelter next to Waterfront Park.

The state is awarding the money to 19 organizations statewide. The contracts will increase the number of state-funded beds in homeless shelters from 3,577 to about 3,761, even though last year the funding was about the same, Ige said.

The contracts are also expected to double the number people homeless shelter operators will place into permanent housing. In 2016, shelters promised to help 3,000 people find housing; this year, that goal is 6,200.

Gov. David Ige announced new state contracts with homeless shelters in Kakaako on Thursday. Anita Hofschneider/Civil Beat

The contracts are a key mechanism for the state to pay for the operation of homeless shelters. The number of homeless people in Hawaii has been rising for several years, prompting Ige to declare a state of emergency in October 2015.

But the increase in the number of shelter beds was surprising given widely publicized concerns from shelter operators that new state regulations would cripple their capacity.

The Legislature passed a bill last year that required shelters to create partitioned spaces for each shelter resident and abide by a ratio governing the number of showers and toilets that must be available. The law also required “homeless shelter stipend payments to be made based on performance measures that are actually achieved.”

Several shelter operators urged Ige to veto the measure. Even though his administration expressed reservations about some of the rules, he ultimately allowed the bill to go into law without his signature.

Kimo Carvalho, spokesman for The Institute for Human Services, opposed the bill last summer, saying he feared it would cause IHS to cut 166 shelter beds.

But IHS received two contracts worth $3 million Thursday, Carvalho said, after the state revised its request for proposals and loosened some of its specifications, such as the average length of stay.

Institute of Human Services. Kimo Carvalho. 11 march 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Kimo Carvalho, director of community relations at The Institute for Human Services, says the shelter is cutting dozens of beds to comply with state regulations but is happy with compromises that the state made on its rules. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Carvalho said IHS is still cutting 64 beds to comply with the rules, but is happy that the shelter will still be able to receive funding for its operations.

But others weren’t so lucky. The Lighthouse Outreach Center in Waipahu announced last month that it plans to close because the new rules are too stringent. The shelter’s director, Bill Hummel, said that the organization wasn’t planning to apply for a contract that it couldn’t comply with.

“The outcome measures, the construction requirements, they’re all irrational,” Hummel told Hawaii News Now. “I don’t want to speak for other shelters but I don’t know how other shelters can do this.”

Scott Morishige, state homelessness coordinator, said even though some shelters are cutting beds and the Lighthouse Outreach Center is closing, the state is funding more shelter beds than last year because some organizations, like Alternative Structures International, are expanding their capacity.

The governor hailed the achievement as the product of effective coordination between the public and nonprofit sectors. The increase in shelter beds and the number of people who will be housed are “proof that when we work together we can accomplish great things,” Ige said.

Still, the governor said his administration will propose amendments to state homeless shelter requirements during the upcoming legislative session. He declined to specify exactly what he’ll request.

Gov. David Ige talks to Malia Souza-Wright at the Family Assessment Center. Souza-Wright, who is bipolar and homeless, urged the governor to fund more family shelters. Anita Hofschneider/Civil Beat

Morishige said the state will also be providing training, support and monitoring for nonprofits to ensure that they actually do what they’re planning to do. The contracts go into effect on February 1.

The governor’s announcement comes just a week before the Legislature convenes its 2017 session. Ige is hoping lawmakers will boost homelessness funding to $20 million, as well as add tens of millions for housing production.

Morishige says he’s optimistic that the Legislature will support the administration’s goals of housing chronically homeless people who are living on the streets, providing rental subsidies and expanding the inventory of low-income units.

Click here to read more about the state’s request for proposal. See the list of contract awardees below:

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