Former Homeless Move Into Micro-Village at Old A

July 3, 2020, 11:46 AM HST (Updated July 3, 2020, 11:46 AM)
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Volunteers and crews literally raised the roof, 19 times to be exact, at the Na Lamakū temporary emergency housing site at Old Kona Airport Park on June 13, 2020. PC: Rebeccas Villegas

On Wednesday, 15 Hawai’i Island residents left lives on the streets to move into micro-housing units at Ka Lamakū located in the southeast corner of Old Kona Airport Park.

They were the first group to move into the temporary housing project, which materialized in response to calls for Hawai‘i County to provide shelter for the growing number of people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic and to relocate homeless away from popular sites like Kailua Pier, Honokohau Harbor, and portions of the Kailua Village business district.

The village is the result of a partnership between the County of Hawaiʻi and HOPE Services, which will manage the units and assist guests in securing permanent housing. The County Fire Department, County Department of Parks and Recreation, State Department of Transportation, Tinguely Development, HPM Building Supply, and West Hawai‘i Rotary Clubs all played a role in the construction of the micro-units, which came together in only one day in June.

Volunteers from Kiwanis Club were also on-site Wednesday, preparing hygiene kits and household supplies to welcome new guests. Also present were Youth With A Mission volunteers, who made a donation of shoes for the guests at Ka Lamakū.

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HOPE Services Deputy Director of Operations, Ipo Morgan, who normally oversees the day-to-day operations at The Friendly Place, plans to stay onsite at Ka Lamakū for at least the next month to ensure the new program’s success, a HOPE Services release said.

“People have been coming to us because they have nowhere to go,” Morgan said. “It was heartbreaking to see more and more of our neighbors living in tents, unable to social distance or practice hygiene. This village restores their dignity.”

Morgan cautioned, however, that Ka Lamakū shouldn’t be viewed as a permanent solution to ending homelessness.

“We’re so glad we can help this group of people, but we need to address the lack of affordable housing, or the cycle of evictions and homelessness will continue,” she said.

Wealth inequality has become even starker since the pandemic hit, and despite a freeze on evictions, HOPE staff said it has fielded requests for assistance at more than double the rate of last year, as Hawaiʻi’s unemployment rate remains high.

The pandemic has also intensified the need to reduce crowding in shelters, with the CDC recommending that communities “identify additional temporary housing and shelter sites that are able to provide appropriate services, supplies, and staffing.” Advocates for people experiencing homelessness have hailed Ka Lamakū as a necessary measure to protect the community, as well as the right thing to do.

“We truly appreciate the community coming together in making this opportunity happen,” said Brandee Menino, CEO of HOPE Services Hawai’i.

A total of 18 units were constructed and will remain in place until the County’s new project, Kukuiola, is built off Kealakehe Parkway.

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