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Homeless Frontlines: Getting Off the Street on Oʻahu

*H POST Whitmore 7-2021.jpg
Noe Tanigawa
HPD opened a second Provisional Outdoor Screening and Triage (POST) facility in Whitmore this past summer in response to requests from the community and area elected officials.

The first Provisional Outdoor Screening and Triage facility, or POST, was a collection of small, sweltering tents at Keʻehi Lagoon. It's part of the Honolulu Police Department, HPD's, Homeless Outreach and Navigation for Unsheltered Persons initiative. It's called HONU. And things are different now, especially at the shady POST in Whitmore, where dappled shadows play over large tan barn-like structures.

H POST Keehi.jpg
Noe Tanigawa
When HPD's POST first opened at Ke'ehi Lagoon in December 2020, single tents were open to the blazing sun with little respite. Now up to 6 small tents are accommodated inside the larger barn-like shelter.

"That is made out of a military grade neoprene it's an air shelter. That shelter can be inflated in four minutes. It provides 400 square feet of living space."

Sgt. Joseph O'Neal, Acting Lt. of HPD Community Outreach Unit. He explains a strategy they've developed for individual tents within that air shelter.

"Because of the pandemic and CDC guidelines, people were comfortable and had more sense of safety inside a personal tent. The tent is essentially a bedroom within the tent. That's a blended model because of the pandemic."

The HONU program recently received high marks from a state contracted evaluator. It's described as a state funded city partnership with promise. O'Neal says across the country, homeless services are often siloed.

"We've done it differently in Hawaiʻi where we work together and the results speak for themselves because this program is unmatched nationally. The last Point in Time (homeless count) found 2,300 unsheltered and 1,200 had come through our site. Now, it might take repeated attempts to help people."

H Tammy Reno .jpg
Noe Tanigawa
There are over 2400 ways to end up homeless, the same as the number of unsheltered people. Tammy left her home, to be with her life companion, Reno.

The POST so far has served about 1,600 people since it opened in December 2020. About 700 returned to the street. About 900 went on to other transitional or permanent shelters.

Tammy spent four months at the POST at Keʻehi. She says it can be a place to start putting a life back together.

"I've never experienced it, I only watched it on TV as far as the homeless. They don't want to be out here but they have no choice."

Tammy got her social security card through the POST and moved recently to Hale Mauliola Navigation Center on Sand Island.

"Truthfully, if I was to come out here to be homeless, I don't think I would last, you know, I really don't think so."

There hasn't been an actual street count of Oʻahu homeless since 2019, when 2,400 people were counted as unsheltered. That was 12% more than in 2018. City Housing and Homelessness director Anton Krucky responded to anecdotal reports of increasing homeless and "sweeps" on the street.

"We have clean-up efforts is what we're doing. I know in the previous administration 'compassionate disruption' was part of their homeless programs. It's not part of our programs because it doesn't work in that particular environment."

"But we do feel a need to clean up. It's a clean up effort, it's complaint driven. We get a tremendous amount of complaints."

Deployment of the City's new strategy to provide social services alongside enforcement is not expected until September or later.

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