Emergency shelter to help get homeless off streets amid pandemic

  • KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald Thirty-two temporary shelters were constructed outside the NAS Pool on Tuesday in Hilo. More than 50 volunteers built the shelters in one day.

  • KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald Darryl Oliveira on Tuesday drills in a spot for a fire extinguisher on one of 32 shelters outside of the NAS Pool in Hilo. The temporary shelters will house the most vulnerable homeless individuals as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

The first residents of 32 temporary housing units in Hilo began moving in this week.

Earlier this month, more than 50 volunteers, including members of the Hawaii Fire Department recruit class, built the units to help get homeless people off the street during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The Hale Hanakahi Emergency Shelter will house at least 40 individuals at the county’s NAS Pool parking lot.

HOPE Services Hawaii and Neighborhood Place of Puna are partnering to deliver 24/7 shelter-monitoring services, delivery of “grab-and-go” meals, laundry services and are coordinating on-site mental and behavioral health services.

While Neighborhood Place of Puna will monitor daily activity at the shelter site and provide services for program participants, HOPE Services will work with each person to connect them with permanent housing.

“It is nice to see different groups doing their part during the project,” said Paul Norman, executive director of Neighborhood Place of Puna. “The community benefits when all the work comes together.”

Dozens of people were identified to stay in the shelters, which are meant to accommodate homeless people who are most defenseless to the virus.

“We want to help the most vulnerable in our communities,” Norman said. “Getting elderly individuals or people who have underlying medical issues off the street is the best way to help keep them safe.”

Each 10-foot-by-8-foot unit includes a bed, linens and basic necessities. Program participants also will have access to restrooms and showers at the pool.

Hale Hanakahi will remain intact as long as the COVID-19 pandemic persists. However, it is undetermined how long that could be.

“This isn’t a permanent solution,” Norman said. “This is a response to help those who need it most.”

The facility was built with unencumbered Ohana Zone funding, approved by the state, which also will fund the shelters and operating costs.

The 32 shelters are safely spread apart in the unused NAS Pool parking lot until life resembles normalcy again.

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The units will then be taken down and stored until the next disaster event.

Email Kelsey Walling at kwalling@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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