Denby Fawcett: River Of Life Mission Leaving Chinatown

The River of Life Mission has reached an agreement with the city to move its homeless feeding operation out of Chinatown.

Honolulu Chief Executive Mike Formby announced the deal today in an email to Chinatown business owners and community advocates.

“Obviously this is a significant achievement,” Formby wrote.

Rann Watumull, chairman of the board of River of Life, confirmed the deal but said some details still need to be ironed out.

Watumull said he expects the mission to move its feeding center to the city’s new homeless resource center in Iwilei soon, but he has no date for the move.

“It’s a process to feed 700 to 1,000 needy people a day,” Watumull said in a phone interview on Friday. “We cannot settle immediately. There are a few issues to address first, such as determining social distancing for our catering seats. We need to make sure the facility is completely ready for us.

The city’s new $17.2 million resource center will not only provide River of Life’s meal service, but will also provide needed social services to low-income and homeless residents.

River of Life, at 101 North Pauahi St., is a Christian mission that has been providing free meals to homeless and other destitute people in Chinatown for 35 years.

“It’s not just about feeding people. We use our meals to reach out and encourage people to change their lives; to get the help they need,” says Watumull.

Customers line up for lunch at the River of Life Mission located on Pauahi Street in Chinatown. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

But critics, many of whom are area business owners, say the River of Life feeding operation has become a magnet for drug dealers and the mentally ill who defecate on the sidewalks where they sleep and spread out their business, disrupting businesses and scaring people from coming. in Chinatown.

“While it is great that River of Life feeds the people of Chinatown, the organization has never considered the impact it has had on the neighborhood and the chaos it has created,” said Oren Schlieman, owner of Info Grafix, a graphic designer. design company on Maunakea Street.

Schleiman called it good news that River of Life is preparing to move its food operation. “It’s a wonderful way to start the Lunar New Year.”

Sam Say has been selling lei in his MP Lei shop directly across from River of Life since 1998.

He called Friday’s announcement “so good news.”

Say said the neighborhood has been trying for more than 10 years to get River of Life to take its meal service elsewhere.

“I’ve had a front row seat to the chaos. Enough is enough,” he said. “It will make Chinatown so much safer for vendors.”

Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s administration has been working for a year to get the mission to agree on moving the power operation out of Chinatown.

In his email to Chinatown defenders on Friday, Formby wrote: “Although it has taken us longer than expected to reach a mutually binding agreement, I am confident that ROL’s decision to move will be within the interest of all – ROL, their constituency that relies on their services, and the Chinatown community.

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