Nearly a year later, many eruption evacuees still in search of a permanent home

Published: Apr. 13, 2019 at 10:57 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Next month will mark one year since the first lava fissure opened off Mohala Street in Leilani Estates.

Over the course of 88 days, the 2018 Kilauea eruption destroyed 712 homes in lower Puna. Dozens more are remain inaccessible, still cut off by lava.

More than 1,000 people were evacuated during the eruption. Hundreds of those evacuees are still in search of a permanent home.

On May 3 of last year, Larson was one of the first people to be evacuated from Leilani Estates, the de facto Ground Zero of the 2018 flow.

Eleven months later, the 61-year-old is still living in a shelter. It’s a place she never expected to be.

“I really wanted to get on with my life, do the right thing and rent a place,” said Larson.

She found a home to rent in Kalapana, but shortly after moving in her landlord told her he had decided he to live there. So she ended up back in temporary housing.

Larson’s not alone. The shelter where she’s staying, situated behind the Sacred Heart Church in Pahoa, is still 75 percent full. All of the people staying there are eruption evacuees.

In the meantime, many other evacuees remain doubled-up with family.

“It’s been a tough road for those who are in recovery,” said Kimo Alameda, who heads up Hawaii County’s Office of Aging.

Alameda says of the 626 families who needed help finding a new place to live, only 153 have been able to secure permanent housing. Another 45 families, totaling 156 people, requested plane tickets so they could start over somewhere else.

“We found, through all of this, it wasn’t the disaster that caused mass displacement,” said Alameda. “It was conditions that existed before the disaster, the lack of housing, the lack of mental health services.”

He says one of the county’s main focuses now is addressing those shortcomings.

The community is also stepping in to help. Last week, the non-profit Hope Services announced it had teamed up with a local contractor to build a kupuna village in Pahoa.

The first 12 homes are expected to be move-in ready next spring.

Determined to find a place of her own, Larson tries not let the situation get her down.

“I don’t know how close I am, but I’m closer than I was before,” said Larson. “There’s more resources and property management. And more things that I am open to.”

Time is running out for lava evacuees living in at the Sacred Heart shelter to find permanent housing. Funding for the micro-units runs out in June.

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