Building in the works to help homeless in Waikiki

The potential site for a Housing First building in Waikiki.

Studies on the rising homeless population in Hawaii. Concerns about the impact homelessness has on tourism. Seemingly endless clean-ups of clutter and camps on sidewalks and other public places.

We’ve learned a lot about the homeless problem over the years. At last count, there may be at least 500 people in Waikiki alone.

“It’s our No. 1 issue and it is a growing concern,” said Rick Egged, president of the Waikiki Improvement Association. But KHON2 has learned about a possible new approach to the problem.

In two years, a 13,000-square-foot open space along the 2400 block of Ala Wai Blvd. may see a nine-story building, with as many as two dozen units planned to be set aside for homeless who qualify for the Housing First program.

The program seeks to find shelter first for the homeless, with job training, mental health treatment and other services available for those who need it.

After years of trying to develop a Housing First project in Chinatown – only to meet with opposition from residents in that area – it seems that the city may have found a place in Waikiki.

“We feel Housing First works,” said Pam Witty-Oakland, the city’s director of community services. “We come with 24-hour contact, wrap-around services and we guarantee rent payments.”

The chairman of the Waikiki Neighborhood Board says his members were briefed on the project some time ago. Chairman Robert Finley also says he would rather see homeless in a shelter rather than out in the streets.

Honolulu City Council member Stanley Chang, who represents Waikiki, said he’s also on board, but said “it’s very important to note that before moving forward, that the developer needs to work with the community, and must take into account all the community’s concerns and incorporate them into the project.”

A couple visiting from Oregon seemed to support the project but had mixed feelings for a building even partially devoted to the homeless.

“We’re from Oregon and this is our 14th time here and we see it getting worse and worse,” said Don Vandehey.

“A shelter doesn’t always work. Some of them want to be on the street,” added wife Donna.

The Honolulu City Council has set aside up to $4 million for the Housing First project in Waikiki.

But even if that amount is finally adopted, the developer must still secure additional financing from the state, including tax credits, before the project can be built.

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