Tents are up in Kahului to provide shelter to pre-disaster homeless wildfire survivors

Wildfire survivors who were homeless before the disaster now have a safe place to stay.
Wildfire survivors who were homeless before the disaster now have a safe place to stay.(Department of Human Services)
Published: Sep. 29, 2023 at 6:47 PM HST
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KAHULUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - The August 8th wildfires displaced thousands of Maui residents – including some of the island’s homeless individuals.

But now, survivors who were homeless before the disaster have a safe place to stay.

“For those of us that have been working with the unsheltered community, we know that they are just as much of human beings as any one of us,” said Maui Rapid Response co-leader Nicole Huguenin.

The Department of Human Services, in partnership with various non-profit organizations, opened Puuhonua o Nene on Friday.

It’s a temporary shelter on the corner of Hana Highway and Mayor Elmer F. Cravalho Way in Kahului.

Leaders say it’s a direct response to the Lahaina wildfire catastrophe – and it is the first time the state has ever done something like this before.

“Definitely new for us. We’re humbled to be part of this process. This is the first time we’re responding to a disaster of this size,” said Project Vision Hawaii Executive Director Darrah Kauhane.

“We’re excited to be able to welcome at least 150 individuals who have gone through a really traumatic experience, and we hope to be able to bring them some comfort, give them that safe space, and to build that community of support around them.”

Kauhane said each tent is fully insulated and equipped with cots and other supplies. On-site medical facilities, showers and restrooms, and meals will be provided. The program will also provide transportation for survivors to and from medical appointments.

“We’ll have staff here 24/7. They’ll have access to nursing on a daily basis, wellness care, mental health on a daily basis, we’ll have case managers and peer specialists on site,” Kauhane said.

State leaders say the long-term goal is to turn the military-grade tents into permanent structures.

“We want them to know that this is a place that they have as an option. That it’s a safe space. They’ll be wraparound services that are provided to help them transition to more permanent housing.” Department of Human Services Deputy Director Joseph Campos.

Organizers say state-funded disaster case managers will work with each survivor to develop a recovery plan.

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