Homeless shelters lose beds with new contracts

Maude Cumming

The Family Life Center’s new state contracts for emergency shelter and other services for Maui homeless people have forced the facility to reduce its number of beds from 50 to 18 and to discontinue shelter services for families and men.

Some of those men and families may seek shelter from the other shelter/transitional housing agency on the island, Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Centers, but that facility is also likely to lose beds.

The executive directors of both nonprofit agencies that receive state contracts said that Maui will be losing beds for its homeless population as a result of the new, more stringent requirements developed by the state Department of Human Services following the passage of a bill last year in the Legislature.

Those requirements include increased privacy, separate rooms and bathrooms for families and performance standards, which, if unmet, would result in loss of funds.

The Family Life Center in Kahului has provided emergency shelter from evening to morning with 15 beds for men and 35 beds for woman and children in two separate dormitories. Under the new $1.8 million, 18-month state contract that begins Feb. 1, the center will only provide 18 beds for women, said Maude Cumming, executive director of the center, on Friday.

The new request for proposals competitive bidding process required that the center, which provides emergency shelter and other services, such as food, clothing and rental assistance, make some tough decisions, Cumming indicated.

The center would not be able to accept families, because the new provisions require families to be housed in separate rooms with bathrooms, she said. The center had been allowing women to bring their children with them into the women’s hall.

Accepting men becomes a problem as well. The new provisions call for 30 square feet of space per person, 50 square feet of “air space” and 10 cubic feet of storage space, Cumming said.

This meant that the center could accommodate only six men, she said. In addition, the men would have had to be issued four lockers because currently they are allowed one 3 cubic foot locker.

It didn’t make economic sense for the shelter to hire staff for six men, Cumming said.

So the shelter will focus on 18 beds for women, she said, adding that the women will be allowed to stay at the shelter all day under the new contract.

Historically, the Family Life Center had a “low barrier” for admittance, accepting those with problems such as alcohol or substance abuse, Cumming explained. The center’s goal had been to get its clients ready for Ka Hale A Ke Ola, which had a higher admittance threshold.

Under the new contacts, both Ka Hale A Ke Ola and Family Life Center will be accepting “low barrier” individuals, she said. Cumming hopes the men will be able to go to Ka Hale A Ke Ola and that more women come to Family Life Center.

With Ka Hale A Ke Ola and Family Life Center working on the problem, Monique Yamashita, executive director of Ka Hale A Ke Ola, said her agency “could possibly accommodate a few” of the homeless men in its central facility in Wailuku. Ka Hale A Ke Ola has beds in its Lahaina facility, she said, adding that “then it’s up to them if they want to go or not.”

There is no room for families, she said. “We always have a wait list for families, but we will do what we can,” Yamashita said.

As far as Family Life Center housing all of the homeless women, Yamashita said that Ka Hale A Ke Ola has to be careful because its $2.6 million state contract calls for taking some females and failure to meet those goals could jeopardize its funding.

“Kinda junk,” Yamashita said of the situation.

Ka Hale A Ke Ola also will be shedding some beds because singles will be housed in studios that currently house two to three people, she said.

The new state contracts are performance-based, which means that if shelters fail to meet specific benchmarks, they could lose as much as 20 percent of their funding during the term of the contract.

“We are going to do everything we can to accommodate them,” said Yamashita of those who may be displaced. “We will do our best.

“I would like to help her (Cumming) to keep her doors open.”

Both agencies are trying to make do and to think out of the box. Cumming said that her organization is looking at turning storage units into studio units for two families as well as other ways to turn its current space into separate units to comply with the new privacy rules. Ka Hale A Ke Ola is seeking to turn three of its buildings into permanent supportive housing. Plans call for 40 units, studios and two-bedroom units, for chronically homeless people with low incomes.

Getting homeless people into housing is the key to the “housing first” philosophy adopted by the state. The old plan was to have homeless people move from emergency shelters to transitional housing and into regular housing when they were ready. Housing first puts homeless people into housing as quickly as possible, whether they are prepared or not, and calls for working with them to stay there.

Cumming and Yamashita both support the housing first philosophy and lauded its success in communities across the country. Cumming pointed out that it takes “a tremendous amount of work” initially to keep people who have been on the street for a long time in a home. Case workers have to check on clients possibly every day for the first three to six months.

Trying to acclimate a person who has been on the street three or four years to living in a home may require teaching them to use a toilet, how to develop a budget, buy food and wash clothes, taking them to the bank and to the pharmacy or doctor’s office to get their medications and making sure they take their medications properly, Cumming said.

However, the linchpin of the program is putting homeless people in housing, which is in short supply on Maui. Yamashita said that the state may have put “the cart before the horse.”

“Ideally, in the long run, if we have more permanent affordable housing, then yes it will reduce homelessness,” Yamashita said of the housing first mindset. “But our housing inventory is pretty low . . . and affordable housing is zero.”

And if the homeless organizations do not place the required number of homeless people into homes, the agencies will be penalized with funding cuts.

“It is not really fun to work under their parameters,” said Yamashita, noting that it takes a special person to work with homeless people. “We have people who really care . . . and really want to help. It is almost like we are being punished. It is almost unfair.”

Cumming noted that some of the new provisions work against one another. For example, the shelter has to be full while also is required to push homeless people out the door into new housing as quickly as possible. In addition, shelters are required to place homeless people into housing within a certain amount time, but there may not be available rentals.

Cumming said that she will do everything she can to develop more permanent housing.

“We are not going to be able to meet these goals if we don’t have housing available,” she said. “I am certainly going to try.

“I don’t know if we can achieve it.”

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.

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