According to Honolulu City Councilman Joey Manahan, so-called hygiene centers for the homeless have been up and running in Seattle, Wash. since 1982. It’s a place where those down on their luck can take a warm shower, wash their clothes and speak to service providers.
“It's a critical part of their referral process because it's a foot in the door basically,” Manahan told KITV4. “You get to talk to them and you get to identify their needs and refer them to the proper services.”
Manahan has authored a resolution that calls on Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration to study the feasibility of establishing hygiene centers, and report back to the council in 90 days upon the measure’s passage.
The councilman said Seattle spends about $600,000 a year for each of its urban rest stops, but 2/3 of the funds come from the federal government.
“If we can duplicate that model here for us I think it would work very well,” said Manahan, whose resolution is scheduled to be heard Thursday afternoon before the Committee on Intergovernmental Affairs and Human Services.
“Certainly, people need to wash their clothes, people need to take a shower (and) they need to brush their teeth,” Manahan added. “I think it would also address the hygiene issues we're having in the Chinatown/downtown area.”
City Spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke says Caldwell has not made a decision on whether to go forward with the study, but will consider Manahan’s resolution if it passes. Unlike bills that come before the city council, resolutions do not carry the weight of law.
Manahan says Aala Park would be an ideal location for Honolulu’s first hygiene center, and Tom Smyth, a member of the Downtown Neighborhood Board, agrees.
“A lot of the homeless people in Waikiki go down to the beach and use the beach showers, so they actually have a place to go. We don't have anything like that downtown,” said Smyth.
Aala Park has attracted a large contingent of homeless ever since former Mayor Frank Fasi set up a tent city there in the 1990s. Smyth says the park’s comfort station has already become a de facto hygiene center without all of the needed amenities.
“Fixtures work and all of that,” said Smyth, “but it's not going to be itself good enough to be a hygiene center because you really can't clean yourself in a shower-like setting.”
Manahan’s concept comes as the city attempts to clear homeless from sidewalks under Bill 7, which does not require 24-hour notice before crews with the Department of Facility Maintenance move in.
The sidewalk nuisance law calls on those who would like their property back to pay a $200 fee, but under an administrative directive issued by DFM Director Ross Sasamura July 10, homeless persons can request the fee be waived if they can show it would cause financial hardship. The directive calls on those affected by Bill 7 to fill out an “application to waive fee,” which asks for financial data such as employment and welfare.
Since enforcement of Bill 7 began on July 1, the city has collected 5,400 pounds of personal items at six different locations. Broder Van Dyke says Items were discarded only after city workers asked owners if they wanted their property stored, or thrown away.
KITV4 conducted a check Tuesday of the locations targeted so far under the sidewalk nuisance law, and found homeless campers back on sidewalks at Pawa’a In-Ha Park and Aaala Park.
Councilman Ikaika Anderson, one of three sponsors of Bill 7, says Caldwell is doing as much as he can to enforce the new ordinance with the limited resources that are available.
“What's going to make this ordinance successful is continuous and active enforcement, and that's really what we need to see,” said Anderson. “The mayor is doing what he can with the tools and the resources that are at his disposal.”