Keolahou shelter officially opens in Hilo

  • STEPHANIE SALMONS/Tribune-Herald Clothing available for homeless men at the newly opened Keolahou emergency shelter.
  • STEPHANIE SALMONS/Tribune-Herald Hope Services CEO Brandee Menino speaks to the dozens who gathered Friday for the blessing of Keolahou, which will provide emergency shelter and services for homeless men.

  • STEPHANIE SALMONS/Tribune-Herald Mayor Harry Kim speaks during the blessing of Keolahou, an Ohana Zone emergency shelter established at the old Hilo Memorial Hospital

  • STEPHANIE SALMONS/Tribune-Herald Sleeping quarters inside Keolahou, an emergency homeless shelter recently established at the old Hilo Memorial Hospital.

  • STEPHANIE SALMONS/Tribune-Herald State and county leaders and community partners who helped bring Keolahou to fruition gather for a photo during a blessing ceremony Friday.

Dozens gathered Friday morning for the formal opening and blessing of Keolahou, an emergency homeless shelter recently established at the old Hilo Memorial Hospital.

Keolahou provides emergency shelter and services to men, who make up the greatest portion of those experiencing homelessness on Hawaii Island.

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While Friday marked the shelter’s official opening, it accepted its first seven residents last month.

Plans call for up to 50 emergency shelter beds by the end of the year and a daytime assessment and resource center.

Hawaii County was previously awarded $2.5 million in Ohana Zone funding from the state for Keolahou.

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

The law requires that Ohana Zones be placed on state and county land and that those spaces provide services to assist homeless individuals and families to access permanent housing.

Efforts to convert the former and aging hospital, located near Rainbow Falls, into a shelter began earlier this year.

Legislators, including state Rep. Joy San Buenaventura and state Sens. Russell Ruderman and Kai Kahele, were among those who attended Friday’s blessing, along with a number of County Council members and Mayor Harry Kim.

Keolahou partners offer medical care, job training and placement, financial, legal, insurance enrollment, food supplies, clothing and hygiene services.

Partners include Hawaii Island HIV/AIDS Foundation, Arc of Hilo, The Food Basket, Hawaiian Community Assets, Project Vision and the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii.

Keolahou also is partnering with Bay Clinic to offer medical care through its mobile health unit on site one to two times per month. Additionally, the shelter is piloting a partnership with Hilo Medical Center that will set aside five beds for patients ready to be discharged but have no other resources and no home.

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The county is planning two additional Ohana Zone sites in Kailua-Kona that will offer similar services.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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