Hawai’i County Council awards $7.5 million in grants to tackle homelessness, housing

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Frustration. No better word describes what the community, service providers and Hawai‘i County leadership feel about the problem of homelessness on the Big Island.

There were nearly 900 sheltered and unsheltered homeless people counted around the island as part of the 2022 Point In Time Count. The numbers for this year’s federally mandated count, which took place Jan. 23-27, have yet to be released.

A Hope Services outreach worker conducts a survey in Kona with a homeless man called “OG,” which he said is short for “Old Guy,” for the federally mandated Point In Time Count on Jan. 27, 2023. File photo: Tiffany DeMasters/Big Island Now

But exact numbers are not needed to know that homelessness is a big problem. People can be seen living in makeshift shelters outside businesses, in parks, behind bushes and other public areas — or living in vehicles crammed full of their belongings all around the island.

“We are all frustrated with the situation with homelessness,” testified Paul Normann, executive director of Neighborhood Place of Puna and chairman of Community Alliance Partners, during the Hawai‘i County Council’s regular meeting Wednesday.

“I am personally frustrated we are not able to help folks who are struggling with homelessness or mental health issues who are on the street and need help,” he said. “We cannot help them fast enough. I am super frustrated by that and I know you are. I know our citizens are.”

But some help is on the way. As part of a new five-year county program, the Council on Wednesday approved Resolution 61, providing $7,583,528 to 13 organizations for 16 projects.


The projects address permanent supportive housing, substance abuse and mental health treatment. The projects also include professional development for front-line homeless service providers.

Brandee Menino, executive director of Hope Services, plays with a toddler as outreach workers conduct a survey with parents for the federally mandated Point in Time Count on Jan. 27, 2023, in Kona. File photo: Tiffany DeMasters/Big Island Now.

The new program — approved by the Council and signed into law last year by Hawai‘i County Mayor Mitch Roth — appropriates no less than 75% of property tax revenue collected from Tier 2 residential properties, or second luxury homes with a value of more than $2 million, to be put toward homelessness and housing initiatives.

For this round of grants, the Hawai‘i County Office of Housing and Community Development received 31 proposals from 21 different community organizations requesting more than $25 million. A five-member evaluation committee consisting of officials from the County housing agency, a representative from Roth’s office and a member from the Hawaiʻi County Office of the Prosecuting Attorney reviewed and ranked each proposal.

The 16 projects chosen:

  • $1,234,971 for scaling housing interventions with behavioral health supports in East Hawaiʻi through Hope Services Hawaiʻi.
  • $1,093,526 for scaling housing solutions and support services in West Hawaiʻi through Hope Services Hawaiʻi.
  • $808,732 for affordable housing islandwide through Hawaiʻi Community Lending.
  • $614,220 for a Hawaiʻi Island street medicine program on both sides of the island through the Hawaiʻi Island Community Health Center.
  • $543,088 for supportive housing and workforce development in Kona through Mental Health Kokua.
  • $529,729 for re-entry and recovery housing on both sides of the island through Going Home Hawaiʻi.
  • $427,522 for a ʻohana homelessness prevention and support program in Puna through Neighborhood Place of Puna.
  • $406,184 for an islandwide coordination center through Neighborhood Place of Puna.
  • $374,384 for homeless services, including a nurse, in Hilo through Hawaiʻi Island Home for Recovery.
  • $350,865 for recovery housing programs in Kona through Bridge House.
  • $285,000 for a transitional housing program in East Hawai‘i through The Salvation Army.
  • $260,000 for increasing access to care with street medicine in Hilo, Kona and Puna through Project Vision Hawaiʻi.
  • $240,000 for construction of a capacity building in Puna and Kawaihae by Habitat for Humanity Hawaiʻi Island.
  • $168,000 for substance abuse and mental health treatment for homeless and at-risk individuals islandwide through Lokahi Treatment Centers.
  • $156,834 for The Pathway to Excellence in Practice islandwide program through Neighborhood Place of Puna.
  • $90,471 for expansion of Hale ʻOhana in Hilo, Kona and Puna through CFS Real Property.
Rebecca Villegas

Their approval was not unanimous. Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas voted no and continued to voice several concerns she and her constituents have, including how the projects were ranked and rated, how much of the funding is going to one organization (Hope Services Hawai‘i) and the number of initiatives being awarded in East Hawai‘i compared to West Hawai‘i.


She also reiterated her disappointment with the direction many of the projects are taking, seeming to focus more on housing instead of going directly to helping the homeless right now. Villegas said those types of projects would better fit another $5 million the Council set aside last year to be used specifically for that purpose.

“This is a far cry from getting people directly off the streets,” she said.

Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz understands all of the frustration surrounding the ever-growing issue of homelessness and called the grants a first step in building the capacity for the County and its nonprofit partners to put solutions into practice.

The program that provides the funding gives all those tackling the issue an opportunity to do better, said Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, adding that the spectrum of providers represented in the first round of grant awards is what the County needs to take a big bite out of the problem.

Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder looks forward to seeing what the different service providers awarded do with the funds and how they impact homelessness on the Big Island. The grants only represent a portion of the total budget for all of the projects awarded; the other 62% will be funded through sources such as federal and state dollars and private entities. The awarded organizations must submit monthly, quarterly and final reports on their outcomes.


Normann leads Neighborhood Place of Puna that is a beneficiary of nearly $1 million in grant funds for three projects. He said the first year of funding begins to lay the foundation for broad coordinated access to and delivery of services, including preventative measures. They will fill in the gaps and get rid of barriers that only continue to perpetuate the problem, hopefully leading to a decrease in those who become victims of homelessness.

A Hope Services outreach worker conducts a survey in Kona for the federally mandated Point In Time Count on Jan. 27, 2023. File photo: Tiffany DeMasters/Big Island Now.

“I believe that this first year of funding is the first step, and you all know that it’s bigger than just the services,” he said. “We still have to work on housing. We still need to remove the barriers that have created the situation that we are in now.”

County Housing Administrator Susan Kunz, who was not present at Wednesday’s meeting, said in a press release that while it’s unfortunate not all of the proposals submitted could receive funding in this first round, her agency is committed to working with all stakeholders to solve the homelessness crisis.

“This first year was an opportunity to see the capacity of our service providers on the ground as we continue making inroads on homelessness,” Kunz said. “As we know, communities nationwide are confronting the homelessness crisis. This is one step towards supporting the most vulnerable in our community.”

Those partnerships between service providers and County are the only way a diverse spectrum of services can be provided to adequately address the homelessness issue on the Big Island, Roth said in the same press release. The mayor also was not present during Wednesday’s meeting.

“Forging a sustainable Hawaiʻi Island where our keiki can thrive and succeed for generations means creating a place where every individual is provided the services necessary to succeed regardless of the adversities they face,” Roth said.

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel is a full-time reporter with Pacific Media Group. He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism as a reporter, copy editor and page designer. He previously worked at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo. Nathan can be reached at [email protected]
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