After helping wreck the surrounding neighborhood for a decade, the state-funded Next Step homeless shelter in Kakaako has changed its rules so that guests no longer have to vacate the premises at 8:30 each morning and not return until 5:30 pm.
It’s easy to understand why the shelter had those rules. The staff needed to clean the place, and the guests were supposed to go to work, look for jobs, take their kids to school, or find something productive to do.
The problem is, the belongings of guests were sometimes stolen or tossed after they left for the day. And many of the guests simply walked to nearby parks and sat around all day, often joined by friends, relatives, and people who were up to no good, and some were not exactly civil about it. Quite a few decided they would rather just live in the parks or along the sidewalks with no rules and left the shelter altogether.
Soon, there was a huge village of shacks, shanties, tents, and tarps that stretched for blocks and counted hundreds of residents. All this surrounded the Children’s Discovery Center.
The city cracked down on it a few times and required the structures and tents to be dismantled, but the campers usually just came right back. Then the city gave up on enforcement for months without saying a word and instead focused on Waikiki and other areas until problems in Kakaako got totally out of control and culminated in the vicious beating of a state legislator who was documenting the situation on behalf of complaining constituents.
After a public outcry, the city eventually demolished the Kakaako homeless village but many campers just moved back into nearby parks until they were closed for “maintenance” until some time after today’s election. Some campers moved elsewhere, and some just moved to another nearby park and remain there until this day.
The Next Step shelter does provide important services for those who need them. But there can be no denying that the shelter, its rules, and bungled city and state enforcement of laws in the area surrounding the shelter made this chunk of Kakaako a pit of squalor for years.
So now, guests can stay in the shelter all day if they like. It will be interesting to see if this change makes a difference.
It sure is time to try something new, especially since the state is now planning to open another shelter just a stone’s throw from the Next Step shelter.
Maybe they will even fix the gaping potholes in the parking lot some day.