Kumu hula James “Kimo” Awai III performing the blessing of Keolahou with HOPE Services CEO Brandee Menino. (Photo courtesy of HOPE Services Hawaii)

An old Hilo hospital is now a new shelter and assessment center for homeless men on the Big Island, run by HOPE Services Hawaii, a non-profit agency affiliated with the Diocese of Honolulu.

The blessing and opening of Keolahou shelter was Nov. 8.

The facility, at 34 Rainbow Drive in Hilo, is the same building as the old Hilo Memorial Hospital, which has changed faces over the years. Most recently it was home to Hawaii Island Adult Care and the University of Hawaii-Hilo Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy. Both moved out earlier this year.

The building will serve people once again, thanks to $2.5 million in Ohana Zone funds from the State of Hawaii.

The shelter opened with 25 cots. It hopes to increase its capacity to 50 in January, depending on whether it can procure all the needed beds and utilities by then.

The former hospital was picked as the location of the Big Island’s first Ohana Zone, because of its size, layout and proximity to downtown Hilo.

In 2018, state legislators appropriated $30 million to establish at least three Ohana Zone sites on Oahu, and one each on the Big Island, Maui and Kauai.

Ohana Zones are sites on state and county land designated to provide services for homeless individuals and families and to help them find permanent housing.

At Keolahou, the assessment center will give residents a case manager and other services they need to find affordable housing and to connect them to the support they need to remain housed. Individuals will be able to stay at Keolahou for up to 90 days.

Men make up the greatest proportion of those experiencing homelessness on Hawaii Island.

HOPE Services Hawaii is working in collaboration with Hawaii County Economic Opportunity Council, Project Vision, Bay Clinic, Hawaii Island HIV/AIDS Foundation, the Food Basket Inc., Arc of Hilo, Hawaiian Community Assets, and Legal Aid Society of Hawaii.

For example, Keolahou’s partnership with Bay Clinic, a federally qualified health center serving East Hawaii, will bring medical care on site once or twice a month. Giving participants regular medical checkups will reduce the strain on emergency services.

HOPE already operates other Big Island shelters that serve families, couples and single women.

Last year, 70% of shelter residents who entered a HOPE shelter moved into permanent housing.

The County of Hawaii is planning two additional Ohana Zone sites in Kailua-Kona, which will offer similar services to those in West Hawaii.

Read the article and watch the video direct through the Hawaii Catholic Herald here.