Kealaula at Pua Loke continues transitional housing goals

LIHU‘E — Across the state, counties are working to increase the affordable housing inventory and create more programs those facing homelessness can tap into.

Kealaula at Pua Loke, a transitional housing complex in Lihu‘e with built-in outreach services, was lauded as a prime example of what the state’s piloting with its ‘Ohana Zone program.

Monday, state and county coordinators who focus on homelessness initiatives spoke with state legislatures from the Senate’s Committee on Humane Services and the House’s Committee on Health, Human Services and Homelessness during an informational briefing on the state’s ‘Ohana Zone and other pertinent issues facing the houseless community.

The state appropriated about $23 million toward the pilot ‘Ohana Zone program, which seeks to house those without homes while they qualify for Section 8 or find permanent housing while providing a base for outreach services. To date, about two-thirds of the funding, $20.8 million, has been expended or is in the process of being invoiced. The program is on track to expend its funds by June 2023, according to Scott Morishige, Governor’s Coordinator on Homelessness.

The state was unable to conduct a Point-In-Time count, where the number of unsheltered is tallied. During January 2020’s count, the state reported 6,458 houseless individuals, which included over 400 on Kaua’i.

The pandemic has had negative effects on initiatives geared to reduce that number, including staffing for projects, timelines for builds and impacts on other homeless systems, like substance abuse programs, Morishige said.

“We did see a reduction of shelter bed space due to social distancing,” Morishige explained.

Kealaula, which opened up in November 2020, was constructed using $2 million from state funds and $2.15 million in county money.

Ashton Varner, the county’s homeless coordinator, reported that between its opening and September 2021, over 70 individuals and 31 households have been serviced at the complex. About 58% of the households were those living at one of the county’s Shelter-In-Place beach parks that were used during the first year and a quarter of the pandemic to provide a safe place for the homeless community to live with access to running water, electricity and outreach services.

Kealaula, a 28-unit development, is currently serving 27 households and 67 individuals now.

Women In Need provides case-management services at Kealaula through a three-year funding model from the Department of Human Services, which provides funding toward property management, security and outreach.

About 90% of those living there have signed up for individualized counseling, Varner reported.

The county has already allocated an additional $2.4 million to build a complex similar Kealaula model in ‘Ele‘ele, Varner said.

Coordinators from across the state stressed the urgency in increasing the state’s affordable housing inventory, as well as more access to substance abuse programs and general outreach.

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