Hawaii County Fire Department and volunteers erect homeless shelters

  • Hawaii Fire Department EMS Capt. Mike Lam carries a window to one of the tiny houses built for the homeless Saturday at Old Kona Airport Park. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Tiny houses for the homeless are built along the access road behind Old Kona Airport Park Saturday morning. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Volunteers construct tiny houses for the homeless Saturday at Old Kona Airport Park. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Volunteers construct tiny houses for the homeless Saturday at Old Kona Airport Park. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Volunteers put a roof on a tiny house for the homeless Saturday at Old Kona Airport Park. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

The access road behind Old Kona Airport Park became the newest homeless shelter as 18 tiny houses were constructed Saturday morning.

More than 50 volunteers, including members of the County Fire Department and Recruit Class, erected walls and roofs, installed windows and doors along the roadway that passes mauka of Makaeo Pavilion. Tinguely Development had been on site all week, working in partnership with the County in prepare the site for vertical construction.

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The selected site is in the same area the county cleared a homeless camp in August 2017.

Hawaii County Deputy Managing Director Barbara Kossow said the county decided on the site because it had no choice.

“No other reasonable site is available. No one wants these units in their backyard. This is temporary during this pandemic,” she said.

The facility, named Na Lamaku, is being built with State and Federal assistance, which will pay for operation costs of an estimated $150,000.

The county purchased the modular –prefab units from HPM using CARES Act funding.

Portable restrooms and lighting will accompany the shelters.

The temporary shelters, measuring 10 x 8 feet each, will be ready for occupancy next week and will accommodate individuals experiencing homelessness. Each unit can house up to two people. Community outreach teams are working to identify and engage with eligible individuals, who could number up to 30 people according to a media release from the mayor’s office.

One area outreach was performed was the space fronting the Friendly Place on Pawai Place, which has become one of the latest gathering places for homeless.

“The first priority is Pawai folks, than Kailua Pier and Honokohau Harbor,” said Sharon Hirota, Mayor Harry Kim’s executive assistant in charge of homelessness issues. “But, we cannot force these folks to come.”

Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas attended the build and said the experience was an absolute joy.

“I was honored and humbled to work side-by-side with men and women from all three generations of our fire department; the retired, the active and the recruits,” she said. “The guidance and expert construction skills of Tinguely Construction’s crew kept the build on track with record speed and efficiency.”

The 18 units include one that will house a 24/7 on-site manager.

The release states “HOPE Services Hawaii is working in partnership with other social service agencies to deliver 24/7 shelter monitoring services, delivery of “grab &go” meals, and the coordination of on-site mental and behavioral health services. They will also provide case management to connect program participants to appropriate permanent housing.”

“We are so grateful for the tremendous generosity of Tinguely Development, who’s working on the pre-construction work pro bono,” said Mayor Harry Kim. “They tell us they’re doing this to give back to the community, and we deeply appreciate it.”

The shelters are expected to remain on-site through the end of October, when the county is hoping to have Kukuiola ready for occupancy. That emergency shelter project and Village 9 affordable rental community project off Kealakehe Parkway was expected to begin construction in early spring but groundbreaking has yet to commence.

According to the latest point in time count conducted by HOPE Services in January, overall homelessness on the Big Island increased by 16% from 2019 with an upsurge of 42% in chronic status.

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The report indicates no homeless individuals in North Kohala, 21 in South Kohala, 159 in North Kona, six in South Kona and 26 in Ka‘u.

“Together we can and are making a difference,” said Villegas.

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