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Mobile Homeless Outreach Center Begins Operations Friday

The Honolulu Police Department plans to set up mobile navigation homeless centers in parks on Oahu, starting in Waipahu this week and possibly Stadium Park at a later date.

The Homeless Outreach and Navigation for Unsheltered Persons (HONU) project calls for a center made up of blown-up tents and offering social services to homeless in the area. The tents will remain up in a city-owned park for 90 days before moving to a new location on the island.

The city hopes to move those using the center into more permanent housing within three days of their arrival.

While the center is operating in the park, certain rules and laws are being lifted to allow the homeless to stay overnight. Police in plain clothes and service workers will be present 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

The funds for the project mainly come from state sources. In 2018, the state Legislature allocated $30 million for “Ohana Zones” throughout the state. Lawmakers defined an “Ohana Zone” as a program addressing the basic needs of the homeless, including social, health and transportation services. The program also provides help to people transitioning into permanent housing.

Honolulu received $10.5 million of the state funds. Mayor Kirk Caldwell said $6 million would pay for infrastructure, such as the HONU tents. The remaining $4.5 million would cover case management to help find the homeless find more permanent housing. The city also plans to contribute rent for the permanent housing.

“We're not moving homeless folks into tents like this and saying, ‘Aloha’, and leaving neighbors to deal with the problem,” he said. “It's a way to keep people housed within these tents safe and sound and treated and cared for, and not have them wandering off to other parts of the community.”

The first location will be opening at Waipahu Cultural Garden Park on Friday at 9 p.m.

The City Council member for that area, Brandon Elefante, said he worked with the community to select the site.

“There's concerns on how it will work, what will it look like. What are the ramifications from it? What will happen after it leaves,” he said. “What gives it a level of security for constituents and residents is knowing that this is all hands on deck, all team effort. . . It really takes a lot of that effort to ensure that at the end of the day, the responsibility is going to fall on all of us to ensure that this pilot is a success.”

After the 90-day period is over, there will be police enforcement in the area.

Elefante noted that there are currently no homeless shelters in Waipahu. The nearest shelters are located in Kalaeloa, in town at the Institute for Human Services and at the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center.

The city is looking at Stadium Park in McCully as the next place to locate a HONU center, although that decision has not been finalized. The city plans on operating two centers in the next six months.

Ashley Mizuo
Born and raised on O’ahu, she’s a graduate of ‘Iolani School and has a BA in Journalism and Political Science from Loyola University Chicago and an MA in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.
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