The Honolulu Emergency Services Department is working with the city’s outreach program to help homeless patients find permanent housing.

The Iwilei Resource Center opened Monday to provide 24-hour services to Honolulu’s homeless population including hygiene and medical care and helping with obtaining documentation and medical insurance. 

The center can accommodate 19 patients at a time.

Honolulu Emergency Services Director Jim Ireland said the decision to open up a medical respite center was made after coming across patients who were living on the streets and were too sick to go to IHS and HONU, but not sick enough to be admitted into the hospital.

Officials have allocated $3.5 million to help an estimated 250 people a year. The ultimate goal is to help patients transition into long-term permanent housing within a month of their stay at Iwilei, whether it be foster care, nursing home care or a small village with wraparound services. 

Honolulu Crisis Outreach Response and Engagement Program CORE Resource Center homeless unhoused clients patients clean place time medical recovery recover
Honolulu’s Crisis Outreach Response and Engagement Program team goes over patient care on their first day of the new Resource Center. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

Ireland said there are people who call the ambulance and occupy the emergency room for unnecessary emergency medical services and health care costs. They might have minor ailments or are simply hungry, he said. 

“We’d much rather service them this way and get them into permanent housing and address their needs rather than what we’re doing now with 911,” Ireland said.

The Crisis Outreach Response and Engagement Program is responsible for identifying new patients and working with hospitals for patient referrals. The CORE staff, composed of community health workers and emergency medical technicians, will also be working alongside volunteers, medical students and physicians faculty from the HOME Project at the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine to ensure adequate medical care in the respite center.

“We’re treating each person very uniquely because each person has their own story, their own circumstances, their own medical issues,” Ireland said. “We’re trying to customize and tailor the solution to each individual based on their needs.”

The Queen’s Medical Center and Wahiawa General Hospital donated used beds and furniture to the Iwilei Resource Center. The Department of Human Services and the governor’s office have also approved $4.5 million in additional funding to keep the center running and open a second facility soon.

“We just opened today,” Ireland said. “But we’re already in the discussion on looking at another facility in West Oahu and, perhaps, East Oahu.”

Civil Beat’s community health coverage is supported by the Atherton Family Foundation, Swayne Family Fund of Hawaii Community Foundation, the Cooke Foundation and Papa Ola Lokahi.

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