June 13, 2018 (Hawaii Catholic Herald) – HOPE Services Hawaii has partnered with some 20 local construction and engineering companies

By Patrick Downes
Hawaii Catholic Herald

HOPE Services Hawaii, an affiliate agency of the Diocese of Honolulu, together with an outpouring of community help, is building 20 temporary shelters on Catholic Church property in Pahoa to help some of those displaced by the Kilauea eruption.

The land, a vacant lot adjacent to Sacred Heart Church in Pahoa leased from the Diocese of Honolulu, was being graded and leveled with dirt and gravel last week in preparation for “build day,” June 9, said Brandee Menino, HOPE Services’ chief executive officer, by phone on June 6.

HOPE Services has partnered with about 20 local construction and engineering companies who have volunteered their services for the project, she said.

On June 9, about 100 volunteers, including 48 members of the U.S. Army National Guard, 40 from Habitat for Humanity, and some licensed contractors, planned to erect 10 of the 20 10-by-12-foot studio units, plus an office structure.

Also being installed is a hygiene center with sinks, toilets and showers, plus a septic tank.

Menino said that Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim has posted a supplemental emergency proclamation to allow construction of the project, which is being called the “Sacred Heart Shelter.”

“After the diocese said yes, we saw the community pulling together,” she said “Before you know it, everything is happening.”

The lead contractor is Gil Aguinaldo of Pacific Rim Construction and Big Island Electrical Services whose family has a long history with Sacred Heart Church in Pahoa. “He is the man with the vision,” Menino said, and all the connections.

This project is “community driven,” she said. Once it was proposed, a lot of people wanted to get on board, she said.

Menino said the first residents could be moving in as soon as June 15. The new housing is specifically for “older adults” who lost their homes to the lava, selected by a special committee.

The housing will only use about one-and-a-half acres of the 14-and-a-half-acre lot, Menino said. The remaining land has the potential for other uses such as farming, she said, and farmers have already been contacting her. But that’s a decision for the future, she said.

Menino said that other faith communities are planning to erect temporary shelters as well, but “we are out in front, with all eyes on us.”

“I am proceeding with caution, with my eyes wide open and mitigating any risks,” she said.

Menino said that although the church property is only three and a half miles from the erupting fissures, the county said it was safe from the flow which is going in the opposite direction.

As the Big Island’s largest homeless services provider, HOPE Services has already been providing other assistance to residents of the Puna district’s subdivisions of Leilani Estates, Kapoho and Vacationland where at least 600 homes have been lost to the historic outflow of lava.

It has deployed about 10 personnel to Puna in response to the eruption, which started May 3.

HOPE Services has been helping connect homeless evacuees with potential rental property owners. With state grant funds and a $50,000 donation from Hawaii Island United Way, the agency is providing assistance with first month’s rent and rental deposits where it is needed, up to $3,000 per household.

As of June 6, Menino said her organization has helped 10 households move from emergency shelters into new homes.

HOPE Services outreach staff have also been assisting those sleeping in cars and tents outside the emergency shelter.

Menino met with Father Paul Li, pastor of St. Theresa Parish eight miles away in Mountain View and vicar of the eight-parish East Hawaii vicariate, of which the Pahoa parish is a member, to suggest ways the other parishes could help. These include offering supplies, furnishings and food for families and individuals moving into new housing.

She also said people could provide “outreach, fellowship and bring hope to those who feel hopeless.”

“There are families, individuals and couples sleeping in their cars and tents outside the shelter,” she said. “Partner with us and serve, listen, offer peace and hope.”