Big Island's largest homeless shelter struggles to meet needs of - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Big Island's largest homeless shelter struggles to meet needs of lava evacuees

Lava claims another home near the Lanipuna Gardens subdivision. (Image: Hawaii News Now) Lava claims another home near the Lanipuna Gardens subdivision. (Image: Hawaii News Now)
HILO, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Hawaii Island was already struggling with a housing crisis when eruptions started in lower Puna. Now, things are much worse.

"There are households and families outside the shelters camping, in encampments, tents and in their cars," said Brandee Menino, head of Hope Services Hawaii, the island's largest homeless service provider.

She said over the past month, the shelter has expanded its kuleana to meet the needs of hundreds of evacuees who are now homeless.

So far, 685 lava victims have contacted Neighborhood Place of Puna for help.

Many have been referred to Hope Services for housing assistance, and Menino said more than 200 were in search of permanent housing.

With rental units few and far between, the shelter along with other non-profits have teamed up with local realtors to create a website that links prospective renters with homes. It can be found here.

"If you're searching for a housing unit you can go to that website. It will have information about all the housing that's available in our community that we know of," said Menino. "Also if you're in the community and have a house or a unit that you can rent to evacuees, we are also asking you to go to that website and register your housing unit."

Under normal circumstances, Hope Services would only be able to use its rapid rehousing rental assistance funds to help the island's homeless population.

But the state recently gave the shelter the go ahead to use that money to aid evacuees as well.

The money can be used to pay security deposits, utilities and rent. 

"Besides housing people are asking to be relocated elsewhere, off island," said Menino.

Menino said there have been 69 requests for airfare vouchers so evacuees can stay with family on a neighbor island or the mainland. She says the organization Child and Family Service has been handling those inquires.

Menino added that her staff has continued to do its traditional outreach in an effort to help the island's chronic homeless population. However, the disaster has resources stretched extremely thin.

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