Ground broken for first homeless shelter

LIHU’E — MaBel Fujiuchi welcomed the hard, chilly rain yesterday.

The chief executive officer of Kauai Economic Opportunity, Inc. used it as a prop to show those huddled under umbrellas and tents what homeless Kauaians deal with on a daily basis.

She asked the more than 50 folks who attended the blessing and dedication for the island’s first homeless shelter to feel the rain and its chilling effect.

Why?

Because “that is what homeless people deal with, without the umbrellas, without the tents, and all day, all night long,” she said.

Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste said the issue of homelessness hit home for him when he toured a beach and found one of his classmates among the estimated 600 homeless Kauaians.

“I got a classmate living out here. I got a guy I knew from when I was growing up living out here,” he said.

Baptiste said the issue of homelessness became a serious matter for him after he took office, met with leaders of organizations who help the homeless, and visited beaches where the homeless live.

On a brighter note, Baptiste and top government and community leaders yesterday cited “partnerships” among them as the key driving force in the creation of the island’s first homeless shelter.

A little more than $2 million was found from federal, state and county government sources to build the emergency shelter and transitional housing facility on two acres next to the headquarters of the Kauai Economic Opportunity, Inc. off Haleko Road in Lihu’e, island leaders said during a ground-breaking ceremony at the project site.

The interplay among federal, state and county government leaders and agencies helped bring the funds to Kaua’i, officials said.

The relocation and renovation of all the buildings for the project is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Once operating funds for the facility are found, possibly from federal and state sources, the facility could open as early as next spring, according to Gary Mackler, a housing specialist with the County of Kaua’i.

The facility could accommodate 39 people, women, men and children, and more in the future, officials said.

KEO leaders have identified as many as 600 homeless people on the island, but say the facility, though small, will begin offering help to that segment of the island population.

The project has been in the talking stages for over two years, and finally got off the ground because of “the team-work of the legislators, the County Council,” Baptiste said.

“It is really all of them that made this happen. It is about partnerships,” he said.

Federal legislators, state legislators from Kaua’i, and members of the Kaua’i County Council, who processed the receipt of the government funds for the project, were praised by dignitaries for working together to have the facility established.

“It is about government officials who have all bound together toward a single vision,” Baptiste said. “And it is about a dedication to the people of Kaua’i from all of us that has made a difference.”

State Sen. Gary Hooser, D-Kaua’i-Ni’ihau, representing state House Reps. Ezra Kanoho, D-Lihu’e-Koloa; Bertha Kawaka-mi, D-West Kaua’i-Ni’ihau; and Hermina Morita, D-North Shore, thanked MaBel Fujiuchi and her staff, including Stephanie Fernandes, director of KEO’s homeless and housing programs, for playing major roles in pushing through the project.

As he pulled up to the project site in his car, Hooser said he couldn’t help but think about “the many people around the island now who are without homes, huddling under tents and blue tarps and in cars, and cold, wet and damp.”

The homeless who will benefit from their stay at the shelter are “people of all kinds, they are children, they are men and women, old and young,” Hooser said.

He said he and his colleagues in the state Legislature stand ready to help the facility become an asset to the county.

Stephanie Aveiro, director of the state Housing and Community Development Corporation of Hawaii, said she had other obligations yesterday, but decided to attend the Kaua’i ceremony as a personal favor to Fujiuchi.

Aveiro’s agency provides funding to KEO, which helps the needy, and her agency will help out with the operation of the new facility, Fujiuchi said.

Mary Thronas, a one-time Kaua’i liaison to former Gov. George Ariyoshi and now chairwoman of the board of KEO, echoed the same sentiment, praising those responsible for helping to make a reality “this wonderful, wonderful transitional and shelter home.”

Congratulatory messages also came from U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai’i, via Setsuo Ushio, Akaka’s Kaua’i representative.

The project will be developed on two acres Gov. Linda Lingle, at the request of Baptiste, handed over to county leaders through an executive order.

The project is to be developed in two phases.

In the first phase, a former Lihu’e public-school building and another building on the site will be repositioned, Mackler said.

At the same time, four portable buildings now behind the Kaua’i War Memorial Convention Hall off Hardy Street in Lihu’e that once housed the Kaua’i County Office of the Prosecuting Attorney and County Housing Agency will be relocated to the site.

In the second phase, all the buildings will be renovated, and other improvements will occur, Mackler said.

The building will be renovated to house six units that will accommodate up to 19 beds for homeless adults and children.

The portable buildings will be refitted to accommodate up to 20 persons.

Members of the Kaua’i County Planning Commission recently approved the permits necessary for all of the work.

Mackler said a bid is anticipated to be put out soon to find a contractor for the renovation work. Ron Agor, a Kaua’i architect, has been hired to design the project.

A little more than $1.5 million in federal funds for the project came from the Community Development Block Grant program, the HOME Investment Partnership Program, and the Equal Economic Development Initiative Grant.

Another $650,000 in capital-improvement funds came from leaders in the state Legislature.

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