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New shelter planned for at-risk youth on Maui

Facility would offer safe space for youth while long-term solutions sought

Maui Police Chief John Pelletier (from left); Paul Tonnessen, executive director of Friends of the Children’s Justice Center of Maui; Sulara James and Genesis Young, founders of nonprofit Teran James Young Foundation; Hale Pono Program Director David Litman; Brandon Paredes, Maui County deputy prosecutor; and contractor Rob Baur of Baur Pacific Builders pose in front of the new sign for the upcoming Hale Pono Youth Shelter on Tuesday in Wailuku. MAIA MOTLEY photo

WAILUKU — Built on a foundation of respect, love, collaboration and support, a new youth shelter will open soon to offer restorative justice programs, healing practices and safe short-term living arrangements for Maui’s at-risk teens — the first of its kind in Maui County.

At 1727 Wili Pa Loop in Wailuku, the two-story, 7,100-square-foot Hale Pono Youth Shelter is slowly taking shape as youth advocates and local nonprofits push to fill a need for free and safe places to stay for youth between 12 and 17 years of age who are dealing with emotional or behavioral problems, truancy, domestic violence, trauma or other challenges.

Stays will be limited to 30 days to encourage reunification with the family/legal guardian and effective placement for long-term solutions. The shelter will consist of 13 beds — some rooms will have one bed and some with multiple beds — plus one ADA-accessible bed, a kitchen, bathrooms, office space, conference room, garage and a potential gardening area outside.

Construction is slated to be completed in eight to 12 months.

Privately funding the whole project are Sulara James and Genesis Young, founders of nonprofit Teran James Young Foundation, which in itself offers many services and programs to Maui’s schools and community.

Construction for the new two-story, 1,700-square-foot Hale Pono Youth Shelter is estimated to be completed in eight to 12 months. The Maui News / DAKOTA GROSSMAN photo

“I’m very blessed to have received gifts from my family and so here we are. We could buy the building and two and half years later, we are moving ahead,” James said Tuesday evening before taking a small group of stakeholders that included nonprofit and law enforcement officials on a tour of the building. “We are so excited. . . . They (the youth) need someone to believe in them and to respect themselves.”

With the shelter, the couple are focusing on love, dignity and empathy. By giving the child a nurturing experience, Young said this will hopefully interrupt the “prison pipeline” that at-risk youth sometimes fall into.

“We want to show them that there is another way,” he said. “We are trying to interrupt that by showing them kindness, showing them that love.”

In addition to basic needs like food, shelter and clothing, Hale Pono will offer a friendly and safe environment that supports healing, development and education, as well as nonviolent communication paired with trauma-informed and restorative practices, Young said.

“We always try to seek to understand,” Program Director David Litman said Tuesday. “It’s a power-with model, not a power-over model.”

Paul Tonnessen hugs lead contractor Rob Baur at the Hale Pono Youth Shelter on Tuesday as Genesis Young co-founder of the Teran James Young Foundation looks on. The Maui News / DAKOTA GROSSMAN photo

There would be two to three full-time trained staff at the shelter at all times, in addition to having about 20 part-time staffers and volunteers to help execute the programs and activities for the youth, Litman said.

Though it is not a treatment facility, Hale Pono will be a hub for connecting with other agencies and nonprofits to provide resources, like therapy and counseling, for the child and family if needed.

They also hope to partner with community programs, cultural practitioners, churches and schools to make available more drop-in outreach education, activities and opportunities to build strong connections, learn life skills and have fun, said Litman.

Access to the shelter and programs are voluntary and free of charge. Youth and other community members do not need to be residing at the shelter to participate in the programs.

“The idea of it is to be very inclusive and be for anyone 12 to 17 who needs a short-term sanctuary while we work out long-term solutions,” Litman said. “We are not a treatment facility of any kind. The only requirement for a youth to come in is to have a need for something short term and safe, and as long as they can clothe themselves, feed themselves and aren’t a danger to themselves or others, those are really our only requirements.”

Paul Tonnessen, executive director of Friends of the Children’s Justice Center of Maui, also noted how “vitally needed” the shelter is on Tuesday.

As a foster parent to nearly 30 kids over the years, Tonnessen said it’s especially important to support a child after the first time they run away from home or the distressing situation that they are in.

“It’s about changing those lives and then putting those children back into society and changing others, that’s the key,” Tonnessen said. “Once you get these kids healthy and positive from the challenges that they go through and they go back into that environment, they can be a positive role model in their lives.”

In situations involving juvenile runaways, curfew violations or compulsory school attendance, the juvenile can be picked up by police and released to the parents or guardians right away without being processed, according to MPD spokeswoman Alana Pico.

However, in instances where there is an arrest of the juvenile for a criminal offense, they may be placed in a locked room or cell for a maximum of six hours if necessary, Pico said.

If a guardian refuses to pick up their child from police custody, a child neglect case is generated. Child Welfare Service is then contacted, or Child Protective Services in a situation involving domestic violence, to take custody of the juvenile and determine where they will live.

These circumstances can be traumatic for children and teenagers, Maui Police Department Chief John Pelletier said before taking a tour of the Hale Pono building, which is why intercepting the child before they enter the court system as either an offender or victim “is really key.”

Oftentimes, a child cannot be returned home because the situation is not safe, so giving the police the option to temporarily drop off youth at a safe and nurturing place when necessary shows an investment in the child’s well-being and reduces stress on current resources, Young said.

“Some of these kids have nobody else that loves them except for the people in this room and the people that are plugged into the district attorney’s office, the justice center, the police department,” Pelletier said. “There are few folks that advocate for these kids and now because of your advocacy, we have a chance to get these kids up and out of the drama, get them out of the situation that will keep them in that cycle.”

With few opportunities for Maui’s at-risk youth to take shelter before or after entering the court system, juveniles are sometimes sent to Oahu.

“We would see our Maui youth having to leave our island, and the trauma it created and the disconnect that it created is huge,” Maui County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Brandon Paredes said. “So this Hale Pono gives us the opportunity to keep our keiki here and I think that’s so important because they get to stay connected to their place, their space and their ohana, so yes, I’m very thankful.”

With Hale Pono, youth can just walk right in or be dropped off — and leave when they are ready — if they need a safe place to sleep and eat.

Still, Paredes said there are particular protocols and policies that MPD and soon-to-be Hale Pono staff must follow depending on the situation and age of the juvenile, which will be worked out before the shelter opens.

“What you’re offering is the ability to save lives and that’s incredible,” Pelletier said to James and Young after walking through the Hale Pono structure. “You’ve created this foundation with this facility, there’s going to be a tremendous amount of good that’s going to come out of this.”

For more information on Hale Pono or on how to support these efforts, visit halepono.org/ or contact Litman at david@teranjy.org or (808) 866-0833.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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