Shelters, outreach centers and affordable housing units are among the potential projects to address homelessness that will be funded by nearly $23 million allocated by the Honolulu City Council on Wednesday.

The council approved $2.3 million for projects in each of the nine council districts, plus another $2 million for the Waianae coast.

Each community will come up with solutions that “make sense for their area,” said Councilwoman Kymberly Pine, who led the funding initiative.

“What works in Waianae may not work in Wahiawa,” she said in a statement.

Homeless tent with sleeping person inside along Beretania Street.
A homeless person is sleeping inside this tent along Beretania Street. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The initiative is part of the city’s more than $1 billion capital budget that was approved Wednesday. It covers infrastructure improvements to parks, the sewer system, transportation, including the electrification of some city buses, the widening of Salt Lake Boulevard and the repaving of 3,517 miles of city roadway.

The $23 million will support the acquisition, lease, development and/or renovation of facilities for homeless people. Those could include pop-up shelters called lift zones or “navigation centers,” which were piloted in San Fransisco, where people can be connected to social services, housing and counseling.

Another option used in Seattle involves urban rest stops — places for people to bathe, use bathrooms and do laundry.

In Waianae, the funds will be spent on developing housing, a hygiene facility and a place where a nonprofit can deliver health and human services, Pine’s office said.

Hawaii continues to have among the highest rates of homelessness per capita in the United States. Last year, 46 out of 10,000 Hawaii residents experienced homelessness, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In Honolulu, an increasing number of homeless individuals are dying every year. In 2018 alone, 90 homeless people died, the Honolulu Medical Examiner Department announced Wednesday. It’s the highest number of deaths since the the department began tracking them in 2006, according to data compiled by Civil Beat.

Homelessness is “the number one social issue in our state,” said Sam Church, executive director of Family Promise, a nonprofit that connects homeless families to housing.

“My hope is they will work with the local community and the service providers to determine how the funds should best be utilized,” she said. “Unfortunately, the reality is there is a severe lack of affordable housing and low wage jobs, and we as service providers continue to work hard to get people off the streets and into housing, but we’re going to see more people falling into homelessness.” 

Mayor Is Skeptical

Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration said it is encouraged that the council wants to be involved in addressing homelessness but noted it has tried and failed in the past to address the issue.

Andrew Pereira, Caldwell’s communication director, said that in 2016, former City Council Chair Ernie Martin proposed an initiative to set aside $2 million per district for “community revitalization.” It relied on council members identifying project locations in their areas, Pereira said.

“The initiative failed to gain traction, and a majority of the funds were not released,” Pereira said.

Councilman Joey Manahan was the only member to spend those funds by developing the Punawai Rest Stop in collaboration with the administration, according to the mayor’s office.

In addition to the $23 million in the fiscal year 2020 budget, the Department of Community Services received approximately $13 million in operating and capital dollars to address homelessness, including the Housing First program, according to Pereira.

“The administration will continue to work collaboratively with the City Council on projects that make a positive difference in the lives of our homeless population,” Pereira said.


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