By NANCY COOK LAUER West Hawaii Today | Thursday, August 4, 2022, 12:05 a.m.
Hale Kikaha at The Friendly Place on Pawai Place is seen Wednesday afternoon. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
After being provided the data they requested, County Council members Wednesday were feeling a little more friendly toward the Friendly Place homeless shelter and approved extending its $10-a-year no-bid lease for up to four more years.
HOPE Services Hawaii, which has run the Friendly Place at 74-5593 Pawai Place in Kona’s Old Industrial Area since 2006, furnished the metrics council members had been asking for since early July in a communication time-stamped Monday.
That was enough to get the go-ahead from the council on an 8-0 vote, with Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas absent.
According to the information provided, the emergency homeless shelter served 370 clients between July 1, 2016, and June 30 of this year. Another 390 were served the previous five years. In the most recent period, 38% were moved into permanent housing, while 48% had been moved the previous period.
While more than half (51%) of clients in the five years prior to July 1, 2016 were nonresidents, having lived in the area less than a year, that figure dropped significantly in the second period to 11%. That’s because, said HOPE Services Director Brandee Menino, the nonprofit more carefully screened applicants to ensure the program was prioritizing residents most in need of services in order to get those housed who’d been on the street the longest.
“We exceed the expectations of federal and state contracts in our performance,” Menino said, noting that the facility was only at half capacity last year because of construction, with just 56 living there.
Menino said the nonprofit receives about $14 million annually in state and federal grants and donations, with the Pawai Place facility costing a little more than $1 million annually. Other facilities are in Pahoa and Hilo.
The county paid the nonprofit about $1.5 million last year. HOPE Services doesn’t have a contract with the county to provide services, as they’re with state and federal granters, said Housing Administrator Susan Kunz. The only County Council input is through Resolution 445, allowing the lease agreement.
Villegas said at the last meeting that the community’s perception of the program is that it’s not working, because of tents erected outside the gates and loitering in the neighborhood.
But Menino said that generally happens during sweeps of homeless camps in other areas, bringing uprooted individuals to the Friendly Place.
Kristen Alice, director of community relations for HOPE Services, provided testimony at the beginning of the meeting, emphasizing she was speaking as an individual and not representing her employer.
“This comes down to the choice between facts and feelings. … There are a lot of knee-jerk reactions,” Alice said. “I ask you now to choose the facts and renew the lease.”
That comment apparently didn’t sit well with North Kona Councilman Holeka Inaba, who’d pushed for more details.
“You can only go with the feelings when you don’t have the facts and we have the facts now,” Inaba said before voting in favor of the lease.
Puna Councilman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder said he’d recently taken a tour of the facility and he was satisfied. He said as a business owner himself, he understands the frustration, “from picking up poop to trying to make sure your umbrellas don’t walk away.”
“They’re doing a great job in my eyes and I would like to see this lease continue.” Kanealii-Kleinfelder said.
Council Chairwoman Maile David, representing South Kona and Ka‘u, also praised the nonprofit.
“This is no reflection on you folks because I know what hard work you do,” David said.
Email Nancy Cook Lauer at email@example.com.