Updated: July 29, 8:32 a.m
A Honolulu City Council committee is proposing new plans for the controversial Honolulu Prosecutor’s Safe House. The Safe House was previously used by the City’s Prosecuting Attorney to house victims of domestic abuse.
In the past, one requirement to stay at the Safe House was that residents had to agree to testify against their abuser.
Under Resolution 19-166 moving through City Council, that requirement would change—with the emphasis shifting to house domestic violence victims at risk of becoming homeless.
Nanci Kreidman, Chief Executive Officer of the Domestic Violence Action Center says, victims, especially those with children, often face agonizing choices when it comes to leaving their abusers.
“If a person is trying to make difficult decisions that would be in the best interest of their own personal safety and the safety of their children, their houselessness or access to housing is going to be a key variable,” said Kreidman. “Sometimes people are forced to stay with their abuser rather than becoming homeless.”
The Hawaii Homeless Program reports that in 2018, 1,357 homeless were either victims of domestic abuse or fleeing types of domestic abuse. 46% of that group reported that they were homeless for an average of 13 to 24 months.
Kreidman says that her organization supports the resolution because domestic abuse victims are often left out of conversations about homelessness. She hopes that Resolution 19-166 will help a specific, marginalized group of homeless.
The Acting Prosecutor's Office was not asked to attend the meeting, stating that "had we been asked, we would have attended. In fact, Acting Prosecuting Attorney Dwight Nadamoto has testified about the Safe House at several previous City Council meetings.”
The City bought an apartment complex in Makiki for approximately $5.5 million to create a “Family Justice Center.” The center was intended to provide shelter and services to victims of domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual violence within their families.
The apartment building has 21 rentable units with one bedroom, one bathroom each. The City is currently working to obtain the property under the Department of Community Services from the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney.
In November of 2016, the building, named the “Honolulu Family Justice Center,” was renovated and opened under the City’s Department of the Prosecuting Attorney. However, in 2017, then acting Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro, who originally proposed the safe house idea, changed the name of the facilities to the “Honolulu Prosecutor’s Safe House.” He changed the name after the Family Justice Center Alliance expressed concerns about the center’s operations and asked for the name change.
The safe house was criticized for its strict rules that causes few tenants to actually utilize the complex. Some of the rules included that victims had to be single and could not bring their children with them.
In June 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii Foundation told city officials that “credible information about mismanagement, abuse, and constitutional violations that have taken place” in the safe house.
Acting Prosecuting Attorney Dwight Nadamoto announced that the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Safe House would shut down on August 31 due to budget constraints. The fate of the building, however, remains unknown.
Waters is responsible for drafting Resolution 19-166. With support from his fellow councilmembers, he moved the resolution out of committee to be adopted at the next full City Council meeting.