Kona, Hawaii, October 28, 2010— Providing emergency housing for the homeless in West Hawaii has been a dream of Carol Ignacio for more than 20 years.

On Oct. 18, the Office of Social Ministry director’s vision became reality when more than 100 people, including U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, gathered to bless the The Friendly Place, the first facility on the west side of the Big Island where people living on the streets will be offered a roof over their heads, a bed and some basic living essentials. It will be the first step back up to a normal life for those who have fallen to the bottom. “When you have a safe place to sleep and you have programs, people for the most part, want to move on with their lives and get help for themselves,” Ignacio said.

The shelter is operated by HOPE Services Hawaii, a new diocesan nonprofit agency established last month to help people who are homeless. The new organization is made up mostly of programs formerly under the diocesan Office for Social Ministry. Ignacio is also the president of HOPE Services Hawaii. The Friendly Place, a 31-single-room, co-ed facility, is targeted to open Nov. 1. The one-story, industrial-looking building, tucked off the main street, looks like every other building in the Kona industrial area. Inside, it is open, bright and welcoming. It has two identical dorm wings, one for men and one for women, with separate bathrooms and showers and a common kitchen. Every room comes with a mini-frig and a microwave oven.

According to Brandee Menino, chief executive officer of HOPE Services Hawaii, the Office for Social Ministry had a voice in the design of the building. It requested high, open ceilings with large windows letting in natural light and airflow. The walls are painted a soothing light green and contrasting white. Gray, polished concrete floors help keep the place cool.

Providing opportunities

But it is not a place to hang out during the day. “It is an eat-in program with housing at night,” Menino said. The facility allows a safe place at night, she said, but the day is for working, or looking for work, and looking for permanent housing. The Friendly Place offers help in that regard at its day center, created three years ago in the first phase of the program. The center provides showers, lockers, a washer and dryer, a library, and breakfast. Area churches, including Kona Catholic Community, and groups like the Filipino Catholic Club, provide lunch on some days.

The day center has staff who help people look for jobs, housing and other assistance. Clients walk in themselves or are brought in by outreach workers. They can stay for up to six months. “We provide opportunities,” Menino said. “They (the clients) do all the work.” Parked on the Friendly Place campus is a West Hawaii Community Health Center mobile clinic which provides dental care. The clinic also connects clients with the primary care services.

The Friendly Place was possible because of the cooperation of local and national government. “The county is providing this opportunity,” Menino said. “It took all levels of government — the county, the state and the federal government — to bring this program to fruition.” The $1.7 million building was constructed with $810,000 in federal funding, $450,000 in state funding and $480,000 in county funding. HOPE Services Hawaii is contracted through the county’s Office of Housing and Community Development. “That is who I am saluting today,” Ignacio said on the day of the blessing of the county office. “I worked under three administrations, like three bishops, from throughout. They all have really been true to their mission of housing. Not only for housing, but housing for the poor.” “When you talk about Catholic social teaching, that whole idea of common good, it could be their vision statement as well,” Ignacio said of the Office of Housing and Community Development.

There were “community barriers” to overcome, Menino said. A “not in my back yard attitude” caused earlier efforts to fall through. But this time, Menino said, the county and the Office of Social Ministry engaged the community from the beginning. “We were responsive to the community’s questions and concerns,” she said, “especially the businesses. They are our neighbors and we showed them that we are good neighbors.” Neighbors such as Kona Brewing Company and HELCO have been supportive. The Kona Outdoor Circle landscaped the campus. Jeremy McComber, housing specialist with the Office of Housing and Community Development, called The Friendly Place “our one stop service center.” “A lot of our population is in this area and wanted to make sure they would be able to get to services,” McComber said. “We didn’t want people crossing the highway to get to services.”

HOPE Services Hawaii isn’t stopping here. Its next project is a housing program for families on Hina Lani Street, near Costco in Kona. The facility will offer 40 places for families — 28 affordable housing units and 12 transitional units — and a community center.

To donate to the project or to get a list of needed items, call HOPE Services Hawaii at 935-3050.

Dahm, Lisa . “A very friendly place” Hawaii Catholic Herald, 28 October. 2010. http://www.hawaiicatholicherald.com/Home/tabid/256/newsid884/3359/Default.aspx