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Operation feeding thousands of homeless people in Chinatown to relocate

The River of Life Mission has reached an agreement with the City and County of Honolulu to move its public feeding operation from Chinatown to several mobile locations.

River of Life has been feeding homeless individuals on Pauahi Street for more than 30 years. But area residents and business owners have complained about the crowds, trash and sometimes criminal behavior.

River of Life's administrative offices will remain at their current location. It will also continue its food box distribution to elderly residents of Chinatown and its chocolate factory. River of Life is looking for a campus to consolidate all of its operations.

The exact locations of the new mobile public feeding operation have not been identified, but it is working to find them with communities and groups like the Institute for Human Services.

Rann Watumull, board president of River of Life, said the large operation feeds hundreds of people, where a mobile hub will serve about 30 people.

“That way you can spend more time with them, it's less drain on the communities," Watumull said at a press conference Thursday. "And that's the new kind of model for caregiving kind of across the country. We think it's gonna be much more effective in ultimately changing lives. That's the bottom line. Everything is about changing lives, helping to reduce homelessness, and we think this is going to be a much more effective strategy.”

During Mayor Kirk Caldwell's administration, the city planned on moving the River of Life feeding operation to its new Resource Center in Iwilei, which includes a large commercial kitchen and dining facility of more than 100 seats to prepare.

It is also near IHS, which provides supportive services, and the city's Pūnāwai Hygiene Center, where homeless individuals can shower and do laundry.

But Mayor Rick Blangiardi said it will be sending a request for proposals to operate the resource center – and it will not be run by River of Life.

"I want to be really respectful to River of Life here, but we know that the unintended consequence is we've had a lot of homeless people, many of them mentally ill, whacked out on drugs if you will and in very difficult places, congregating down there because there's food," Blangiardi said. "Despite the efforts of their ministry, nonetheless when these people are on the street it's been a real cause of real concern. It's created safety issues, it's not been good."

"Everybody knows that, so in plain talk, that's why we're so happy to come to an agreement. They're moving, we're cleaning it up, it's going to be better," Blangiardi said.

Jason Ubay is the managing editor at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Send your story ideas to him at jubay@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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