Elderly homeless people on Hawaii island are being moved into the Holiday Inn Express in Kailua-Kona to allow them to shelter in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hope Services Hawaii is providing around the clock staffing to support homeless people during the state’s stay-at-home orders. The Holiday Inn Express will provide housekeeping every three days, disinfect common areas and prepare daily breakfasts. The Rotary Clubs of Kona and Kona Sunrise and the Boys and Girls Club of Hawaii Island will provide lunches and hot dinners.

HOPE Services staffers Christine Tabac, Alyssa Souza, Derick Kai and Carrie Hoʻopiʻi are working to ensure homeless kupuna have a safe place to weather the coronavirus pandemic. Courtesy: HOPE Services

West Hawaii Community Health Center will offer COVID-19 testing, primary care and behavioral health services on site, at its clinic across the street, and/or via telehealth as needed.

“CDC guidelines recommend that we all shelter in place, but not everyone has that luxury,” HOPE Services CEO Brandee Menino said in a statement. “We all have a role to play – from nonprofits, to businesses, to the county. It’s our responsibility as citizens to follow guidance from the infectious disease experts to make sure we protect the most vulnerable members of our ohana.”

The announcement comes after Hawaii County cleared a homeless encampment in Hilo on Tuesday, according to HOPE Services. Ten participants have moved in so far, the nonprofit said.

Over 1,300 people on the Big Island received homeless services last year, according to Bridging the Gap, a network of homeless service providers across the neighbor islands. At least 7% of those were senior citizens.

“My team is working around the clock to keep everyone safe,” Menino said. “Not just people experiencing homelessness, but our entire community. When they stay healthy, we all stay healthy.”

The project was made possible by a $25,000 grant from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.

In order to qualify for this program, people experiencing homelessness must first register with HOPE Services. To register, call 935-3050 or email info@hopeserviceshawaii.org.

Oahu, which has 30,000 mostly empty hotel rooms, has not taken the same approach. Instead, the Honolulu Police Department is running a program in which homeless people isolate in tents in a public park for 15 days and then move on to another tent encampment where they will be connected to service providers.

Oahu’s shelters have reduced their capacity to allow for more social distancing and are eagerly awaiting the opening of new shelter space. State officials have shared no information on when such a space will be available.

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