Igloos top choice for homeless village

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HILO — An igloo village could pop up in Kona over the next few years, as Hawaii County works on a homeless settlement across from the West Hawaii Civic Center.

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HILO — An igloo village could pop up in Kona over the next few years, as Hawaii County works on a homeless settlement across from the West Hawaii Civic Center.

Igloos — 20-foot-wide, 314-square-foot fiberglass domes that can each house four people — aren’t new to homeless housing. Nor are they new to Hawaii.

Igloos are currently in the works for a project of the First Assembly of God in Honolulu. The overlapping fish-scale exterior panels keep the interior 10-15 degrees cooler than outside, even in the sun, and the igloos can also be used for hurricane shelters, officials said.

They would be new to the Big Island, however.

“I like the igloo structures,” said Lance Niimi, an executive assistant of the mayor charged with homeless issues. “They’re easy to construct, they’re movable and they can handle hurricane-force winds.”

Niimi, making a presentation Tuesday to the County Council Committee on Human Services and Social Services, provided the Kona update at the request of Kona-area council members.

But several other council members pressed Niimi for details of a master plan that would provide a timeline for other areas of the county, such as Hilo, which is also experiencing rampant homelessness.

“We’re looking at this horrible upward trajectory,” said Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung. “To curb that trajectory … we need that master plan.”

The master plan will look at the entire island and also include treatment and employment options for homeless individuals. It’s estimated that about a third of the homeless population have mental health issues and about half have substance abuse problems.

Nonprofit social service organizations are expected to step in to help provide services.

Chung was concerned that homeless people would keep moving to the island if they knew facilities were available for them. But Niimi said most of the island’s homeless residents have been here more than 10 years.

“It’s a misconception that a majority of our homeless are from somewhere else,” Niimi said. “Most of them have been here for a long time.”

After sifting through more than a dozen potential sites, the county selected a 35-acre parcel off the corner of Kealakehe Parkway and Ane Keohokalole Highway for its homeless housing project, the first in what is anticipated to be several scattered around the island.

The county intends to use, in the short term, about 5 acres to relocate the current homeless camp, dubbed “Camp Kikaha.” For that, officials are seeking a right of entry from the state.

Camp Kikaha, an open-air camp at the Old Kona Industrial Area, houses mostly people relocated from the Old Airport Park. It currently has 26 residents, said Linda Vandervoort, a contractor hired to manage the camp.

The new property is called “Village 9.” At completion, it will house about 100 residents.

The next step is an environmental assessment to use about 15-20 acres for the igloo village or alternative housing. The public will have an opportunity to weigh in during that period.

The state could then use the balance of the property, through the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp., to construct affordable rental housing.

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While Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha and North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff said they’ve been getting telephone calls complaining about the location, they said most community concerns can be mitigated through project design. For example, the entrance to the facility could face the nearby police station rather than Kealakehe High School located up the hill.

“I’m not a big fan of not in my backyard,” Kanuha said. “Living on this island, this is all our backyard. … Truly we’re a community of compassion, of aloha and of working together.”

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