Emergency shelter in Pahoa to close

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald file photo

    Red Cross volunteer Melanie Marciel sorts through food donations for eruption evacuees May 4 in the gym at Pahoa District Park.

The emergency evacuation shelter in Pahoa, which opened May 3 as eruption activity started in lower Puna, will close next month.

The shelter will cease operations at noon Sept. 17, the county Parks and Recreation Department announced Wednesday.

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Parks and Recreation Director Roxcie Waltjen said in a news release that the department is working with the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Hope Services, the Office of Housing and Development, the Office of Aging and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist the remaining shelter residents with housing transition plans.

“I’m hopeful that those remaining in the shelter will take the utmost advantage of the services being offered in resolving their housing issues,” she said.

According to Waltjen, this has been the longest running emergency shelter in state history; it will have been in operation for 138 days come Sept. 17.

A second emergency shelter in Keaau closed last week.

“It’s been a very long time the shelter’s been open,” said Maria Lutz, regional disaster officer for the Red Cross, and “obviously these people have suffered a horrible loss.”

The notice of the impending closure posted by Parks and Recreation gave people who still remain “ample notice so they can look at what resources they have” and what their future plan might be, she said.

As of noon Wednesday, Lutz said there were 36 people inside the Pahoa shelter and 21 outside.

Peak shelter populations in Keaau and Pahoa totaled more than 500 people in May, according to the Red Cross.

Red Cross hasn’t “dealt with anything that has taken this long before,” Lutz said about the eruption.

By comparison, Lutz said the Red Cross sheltered 350 residents for 69 days during the 1955 Kilauea eruption.

It’s “really hard on people’s emotions and just living your day-to-day life in a more public setting like that,” she said about shelter living.

Those who remain at the shelter will have met with case workers and “at this point they should be formulating their future plans,” Lutz said. “Now that people have personal resources or know where they can relocate to, this will help them with their recovery.”

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And now that the eruption activity has quieted down, Lutz said some homes are safe to return to, as well.

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

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