Why This Waipahu Homeless Shelter Is Closing Its Doors

Dec 23, 2016

Credit Molly Solomon

A Waipahu homeless shelter is preparing to close its doors for good. Shelter officials at Lighthouse Outreach Center say new regulations adopted by the state are to blame. HPR’s Molly Solomon was there and has this report.

Bill Hummel is the director of Lighthouse, an emergency shelter in Waipahu that’s open 24 hour a day. We meet at the front desk, where families and individuals check in.

“They get their mats, proceed to the back,” said Hummel. “We have a sleeping area for men, sleeping area for women, sleeping area for families.”

He says about 77 people slept here last night. The space, a large open-air platform that used to be a gymnasium, can sleep up to 100 people. The area serves many uses: last night it was a bedroom, but with the mats cleared and tables set up, it’s transformed into a dining space.

Lighthouse Outreach Center shelter director Bill Hummel.
Credit Molly Solomon

Hummel has run the shelter since it opened 10 years ago, but expects to close operations next month because of new requirements adopted by the state. Emergency and transitional shelters that apply for state funding contracts will have to comply with new rules. They would require shelters to provide more space between beds and construct separate sleeping areas for families with children. They’d also require more toilets and showers per guest.

“If you’re building a new shelter and you have reasonable funding, that’s a nice idea,” Hummel said. “But in our situation, that provides security issues, that provides cleaning issues, and that cuts down on space.”

The new criteria comes from legislation passed last year that aims to improve shelter conditions and provide more privacy. But Lighthouse and other shelters have argued the rules would result in eliminating bed space. Hummel says sole funding for Lighthouse comes from the state. He chose not to apply for the new contract because he felt the shelter couldn’t meet the new requirements.

“The folks who make these specifications aren’t looking past the third domino,” he said. “They’re not looking at sustainability. They’re looking at a quick fix and a cheap fix, and there isn’t any.”

Hummel has met with state officials as he prepares to shut down the emergency shelter. Scott Morishige, the governor’s coordinator on homelessness, says he’s working closely with Lighthouse staff.

“We’re really looking at all the available resources in the system that we’ve brought online over the past year,” said Morishige. “We’re working closely with Lighthouse to transition the individuals and families currently residing there to permanent housing.”

The remaining families and individuals staying at Lighthouse will continue to meet with case workers next week. But with few shelter openings at other facilities, placement options remain low.