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Temporary micro-housing units going up in Pahoa for lava evacuees

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Video by Daryl W. Lee
The newly named "Sacred Heart Shelter," located on the grounds of Sacred Heart Church on Pahoa Village Road across from Pahoa High and Intermediate School, will provide free, temporary housing for seniors over the age of 60 and families with children under 18. Darryl Oliveira, who is overseeing construction, talks about the project.
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Soldiers from the 230th Engineer Company Hawaii Army National Guard, along with volunteer carpenters, built compact relief housing in Pahoa on Friday. The project includes 20 compact housing units, a site office, restrooms, showers, a communal area and a kitchen.

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Pfc. Kaleo Blas, of the 230th Engineer Company Hawaii Army National Guard, carried building material Friday at the relief housing being built in Pahoa.

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Volunteer carpenter Chad Vierra trimmed protective wrap around the window of a unit.

An emergency community of 20 micro-housing units for those whose homes were damaged or destroyed by lava is rapidly taking shape in the heart of Pahoa town, and an estimated 200 volunteers are expected to show up today to get it ready for the first residents.

The newly named “Sacred Heart Shelter,” on the grounds of Sacred Heart Church on Pahoa Village Road across from Pahoa High and Intermediate School, will provide free, temporary housing for seniors over the age of 60 and families with children under 18.

A Kilauea Volcano eruption that began in Puna’s Leilani Estates subdivision on May 3 continues. After 24 fissures opened up spewing molten lava and toxic gases, the most active continues to produce an unmeasurable volume of lava that is flowing toward the ocean — leaving destruction along the way in the Lanipuna Gardens, Kapoho Beach Lots and Vacationland subdivisions — and remarkably, filling the beautiful Kapoho Bay, a hideaway popular with locals.

Lava has destroyed more than 600 homes.

The emergency project first had plenty of skeptics who were unsure whether anyone who lost a home to lava would want to live temporarily in a tiny house with no electricity or running water, said Brandee Menino, chief executive officer of Hope Services Hawaii Inc., which is managing the project.

But after an initial survey found 63 willing occupants, Hope Serv­ices stopped asking about interest.

“It’s much better than living out of a car or an emergency shelter,” said Darryl Oliveira, who is overseeing ground clearing and construction.

Dozens of contractors, social service workers, trades crews and Hawaii National Guard troops are combining their efforts to clear the church land and build the tiny, 10-by-12-foot houses. And Hawaii Island United Way is donating $75,000, along with a $25,000 donation affiliated with Hu Honua Bioenergy, Menino said.

Out of retirement

But Oliveira’s role is particularly noteworthy.

Oliveira is the new safety and internal control manager at HPM Building Supply, which is helping to coordinate donated materials and labor.

Oliveira, 56, was best known, however, as the steady voice of Hawaii County Civil Defense as its administrator in 2014 when the Big Island was hit with four natural disasters, including Hurricane Iselle and a Kilauea eruption that sent lava flowing into Pahoa town.

Before he came out of retirement to take charge of Civil Defense, Oliveira had been Hawaii County’s fire chief.

Asked about his latest role overseeing construction of Sacred Heart Shelter, Oliveira said Friday, “I’m just the boots-on-the-ground guy making the dirt move. … Happy to be here, happy to help.”

The new community will include two 8-by-8-foot structures that each will have a sink, toilet and shower, Menino said.

For the first month the residents also will get an assist from Oahu’s first mobile hygiene center that was built to provide homeless people with a warm shower and a safe place to use the toilet.

Annie Valentin, executive director of Project Vision Hawaii, said the group’s 26-foot-long “Hiehie” hygiene trailer was placed on a Young Bros. barge Thursday headed for Hawaii island. It’s scheduled to arrive Tuesday.

Young Bros. waived its normal $3,000 shipping cost, Valentin said, and the organization is hoping for a grant to pay the $600 wharfage fee.

In the meantime Pacific Shipyards International is letting Project Vision Hawaii tow Pacific Shipyards’ portable shower and toilet that it normally used for dock-side shipyard workers while the Hiehie hygiene center is on Hawaii island.

“We’re blessed,” Valentin said. “We want to make sure we continue our reputation with the (homeless) population.”

‘Moving pretty quick’

Sacred Heart Shelter started out with much less ambition, Oliveira said.

Three contractors came into HPM Building Supply with questions about how they could quickly build some kind of emergency housing for lava evacuees on the grounds of the different churches they worshipped at, Oliveira said.

“It started off with the idea of using their various churches to house displaced church members,” he said.

After connecting with Hope Serv­ices Hawaii, Oliveira said, “it went from a couple of buildings on church property to something bigger.”

Hope Services has a lease with the Catholic Diocese of Hawaii to use 14.5 acres of the diocese’s land at Sacred Heart Church to build a future housing project for Hawaii island’s homeless, Menino said.

Meetings with county officials followed, leading to an emergency proclamation that waived normal building requirements which cleared the way for Sacred Heart Shelter on about an acre of church property.

“Things are moving pretty quick right now,” Oliveira said Friday. “If only the weather will cooperate. Things are so wet and more rain is coming.”

Everybody wants to get the first lava evacuees into their new, temporary homes as soon as possible, but Menino is trying to manage expectations.

“All I’m saying is ‘soon,’” Menino said. “It’s the first time we’re doing it, so I don’t want to commit to a date.”

But Oliveira and Menino expect that other projects will follow Sacred Heart Shelter for people who lost their homes to Kilauea.

“I’m aware that other organizations are looking for concepts to put on other church properties,” Oliveira said. “This just might be the first phase of a larger community initiative to provide transitional accommodations, a steppingstone to more permanent housing.”

Or, as Menino put it: “We cannot help everybody at this one site. However, other faith groups may want to do this, too.

“We’re not the only ones,” she said. “But we are going to be the first ones.”

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>> Kilauea dashes Oahu newlyweds’ dreams
>> Governor signs proclamation on housing and criminal penalties
>> Lava buries Vacationland, pours into ocean
>> Website to centralize Big Island air quality reporting
>> Kilauea eruption harms up to half of Malama Ki forest reserve
>> Volcanoes National Park’s most important facility damaged by quake
>> Fire helicopter rescues woman, her pet rabbit and chicken isolated by lava
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