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Hawaii County opens new housing units to help homeless

KAILUA-KONA >> The Big Island is celebrating its latest efforts to reduce homelessness with the launch of a $2.5 million housing project in Kailua-Kona.

Officials gathered Tuesday for the grand opening of Hale Kikaha, which consists of 23 units, including four that are handicap accessible. Sharon Hirota with the county Office of Housing and Development said the first tenants are expected to move in sometime during the first week of the month.

Those who will live in the units were selected earlier this fall after applying and going through an interview process.

The goal is to have residents live there for a year before it’s decided whether they will move into alternative housing, such as an apartment.

“That’s the unique thing about this project that each of the units have a project-based voucher attached,” Hirota told West Hawaii Today. “So, after 12-months lease, if they are in the position to move, they will still be able to get that voucher (for their next residence).”

The housing project was the county’s response to Gov. David Ige’s call for more permanent housing solutions. It was listed as part of Ige’s original proclamation declaring homelessness an emergency in October 2015.

Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi has made reducing homelessness a priority and created a task force four years ago to get people off the streets.

“When you’re down on your luck, it is comforting to know that there are people that care, and it is such a good feeling to know that we have this facility that will provide a clean and safe environment for some of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters,” said Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha.

The 23 units are re-purposed shipping containers and feature a kitchenette with a sink, microwave and refrigerator as well as a bathroom and space for a bed. Residents of Hale Kikaha will also have access to a laundry facility, storage area and medical services.

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