Businessman Duane Kurisu’s vision to provide permanent homes for homeless, working families in a plantation-style community became reality Friday when the first of 30 families moved into the first phase of Kurisu’s Kahauiki Village, made out of prefabricated homes that once housed victims of Japan’s 2011 tsunami.
The 11.3-acre “village” sits between Sand Island and Keehi Lagoon Park on the makai edge of the H-1 freeway viaduct, which until four months ago was home to one of Oahu’s most dangerous and entrenched homeless encampments before sheriff’s deputies cleared out 120 people and dozens of dogs.
Eventually 153 families — or nearly 630 people — will live in 153 one- and two-bedroom units at Kahauiki Village that will rent for $725 and $900 per month. An on-site preschool and day care center are expected to open in the next few weeks.
“It’s going to be amazing,” Kaimbrea Vance, 31, said before she moved into her one-bedroom unit Friday. “It’s going to give my son a fair chance at life.”
Before her son, Kainoa, was born 11 months ago, and before she got sober, Vance had been living “under an umbrella over a chair” in the Ala Moana area, abusing alcohol and marijuana.
Now Vance said she’s been clean for 18 months, works four days a week “rolling burritos” for a restaurant and hopes to take advantage of jobs being offered to Kahauiki Village residents at United Laundry Services, Y. Hata &Co. Ltd. and Lion Coffee.
“I want to work my way up and have a future now,” Vance told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
The Institute for Human Services will operate Kahauiki Village and provide social service assistance for the residents. IHS also runs the nearby Hale Mauliola homeless “navigation center” made out of refurbished shipping containers on Sand Island, along with the state’s largest emergency homeless shelters.
“All our families (at Kahauiki Village) are local Hawaii residents with young children who have passed through one of many family shelters across Oahu and who have been working hard to get back on their feet and on a path toward permanent housing,” said Connie Mitchell, IHS’ executive director. “All our families are led by working parents who are members of our local community. Among them are a barista in a coffee shop, waiters at the restaurants we dine at and construction workers for our Honolulu rail, to name a few. Working is an integral part of their lives.”
The state transferred the land between Sand Island and Keehi Lagoon Park to the city under Gov. David Ige’s series of emergency proclamations to address the country’s highest per capita rate of homelessness.
The city then leased the land for Kahauiki Village at a cost of $1 per year for 10 years, with an option to extend it for 10 more years.
The prefabricated units came from Japan after Kurisu helped organize the “Aloha for Japan” fundraising effort in Hawaii, which raised more than $1 million for victims of the 2011 Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.
The city expects to provide $4 million worth of sewer lines and potable water for the entire project, which is estimated to cost $12 million.
But much of the work is being donated by private businesses.
“They stepped up,” Mayor Kirk Caldwell said. Kurisu is “going to have a lot of chits to pay in the future,” Caldwell joked.
Ige said, “Duane was very persistent in getting their participation in this project. Duane said this is the first time ever that he’s been involved with a project where no one who he asked for help said no. This truly is such an example of when we work together we can do great things.”
Ige and Caldwell poured praise on Kurisu, founder and chairman of the aio Group, who also serves on the board of directors of Oahu Publications Inc., parent company of the Star-Advertiser.
“Kahauiki Village is really Duane’s vision for what it used to be like on the plantations where really the community came together to provide all of the necessary ingredients to a happy, successful and thriving community,” Ige said. “Duane wanted to make sure we had access to child care. Duane wanted to make sure we had access to a preschool, all fundamentally important for families to be successful.”
Caldwell said, “I wish we could clone Duane and make like another 15 of him because we could really resolve the homeless problem.”
But Kurisu on Friday chose to spread the credit for Kahauiki Village.
“Together, what we have built is the foundation for a community that’s the first of its kind in the United States and a clean-energy (microgrid) power system that’s the first of its kind in the world,” Kurisu said. “Congratulations, Hawaii. This is what can happen when Hawaii puts their heads together with heart, with mind, with resources, without any expectation for personal gain.
“We welcome the families here today, and we say to you, with all of our hearts, ‘E komo mai.’”