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Transitional housing blessed

  • Micro-units are ready for occupancy at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pahoa. TOM CALLIS/Tribune-Herald
  • Brandee Menino, CEO of Hope Services, takes a selfie Saturday with Gov. David Ige at the transitional housing village at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pahoa. TOM CALLIS/Tribune-Herald
  • Mayor Harry Kim talks Saturday at a blessing of the shelters at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pahoa. TOM CALLIS/Tribune-Herald
  • Gilbert Aguinaldo stands Saturday with Brandee Menino of Hope Services at a blessing of the shelters at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pahoa. TOM CALLIS/Tribune-Herald

During a blessing of 20 small shelters for those displaced by the Kilauea eruption, Hope Services CEO Brandee Menino said it’s hard to put a price tag on the value of all the donated supplies and labor for the first transitional village.

But she considers the contributions of dozens of businesses, nonprofit organizations and labor unions that made it happen to be priceless. In one day of construction last month, 150 to 180 volunteers, including Hawaii National Guard members, participated.

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“It’s a community-led project and I’m so grateful and blessed to be a part of it,” said Menino after the blessing at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pahoa on Saturday.

The micro-units, which have been cleared for occupancy, are 120 square feet and are a modified design of sheds offered by HPM Building Supply, one of the project’s partners.

Menino said six evacuees have accepted invites and could move in as soon as they wanted. Hope Services provides housing for homeless, and the goal is to move people from the village into permanent housing.

The units are insulated and have electricity, with power supplied by a solar “smartflower” donated by T&T Electric.

Many were already furnished with a bed, desk and chair, while flowers were planted outside. A covered pavilion for serving meals and gathering is located in the middle of the village. World Central Kitchen will provide the meals, Menino said.

Portable showers are available and the finishing touches are being made to permanent bathrooms and showers that are handicap accessible.

From start to finish, the project took about 30 days to be ready for use. Gilbert Aguinaldo, who spearheaded the effort, said it shows what can be done when people come together as a community.

“There’s no price tag for aloha,” said Aguinaldo, who owns Pacific Rim Construction and Big Island Electrical Service. “It’s only going to be done here in Hawaii.”

But it’s not the last transitional village for evacuees.

Darryl Oliveira, HPM safety and internal control manager, said 10 more units are coming off “the production line” for use on a lot in Hawaiian Paradise Park.

“This is the first but not the last,” said Oliveira, who was county Civil Defense chief when lava threatened Pahoa in 2014.

Puna resident Ikaika Marzo also commented during an eruption town hall meeting later that day that land clearing has begun on another site in Pahoa with the intent of providing transitional housing for families.

“My heart goes out to everybody,” he said during the meeting at Pahoa High School hosted by the office of Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara. “Everything we did here is all for you guys.”

Mayor Harry Kim said during the blessing that only something like this is possible in Hawaii.

“Yes, the eruption has destroyed a lot of things, but this eruption also brought Puna together,” he said.

Gov. David Ige also commented that the village shows what is great about the state.

“It really is the people, the places and culture that make Hawaii special,” he said. “It is remarkable to see what happens when the answer is yes.”

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said the transitional village is a manifestation of “what aloha really means.”

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“I’m so grateful to be here, to be able to serve this community,” she said.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.