It took a large village Wednesday to complete a small village for homeless people in urban Honolulu with medical respite needs.
About 60 volunteers put finishing touches on a kauhale, or tiny village, with 10 living units, three bathrooms, shaded outdoor gathering space, a nursing station and a 24-hour security office in a parking lot off Punchbowl Street next to the state Department of Health and the governor’s Washington Place mansion.
Pulama Ola, as the kauhale has been named, is slated to begin accepting guests May 31 through referrals from urban Honolulu hospitals to temporarily serve discharged homeless patients who need a place to further recover from medical conditions with assistance if necessary from an on-site nurse and doctors on call.
Creating this medical respite kauhale started with a call to action from the administration of Gov. Josh Green seven weeks ago, and an “army” of partners and volunteers pitched in to make the vision a reality.
The single-room living units, nursing station and security office were built off-site by the nonprofit HomeAid Hawaii with donated or deeply discounted materials and labor, and then arranged on-site about two weeks ago. Work after that included making water, electric and sewage connections and installing a 5-foot vinyl fence ringing the project, which occupies 27 parking stalls typically used by the Legislature.
On Wednesday, interior and exterior furnishings including window blinds, beds, nightstands, clothing racks, plants, patio tables with umbrellas, outdoor string lighting and a large canopy tent were installed, among other things. Volunteers also assembled welcome packages filled with snacks, clothes, toiletries and other items for soon-to-be guests.
“It sort of seemed impossible at first, but it all came together,” said Bob Wardlaw, coordinator of social services at Project Vision Hawai‘i, a nonprofit that will manage Pulama Ola. “It’s amazing. I can’t believe we have all these people.”
Many volunteers were affiliated with organizations including The Queen’s Health System, Hawaii Medical Services Association, Green’s office, Team Rubicon and the Salvation Army.
“It just validates that we have a community that cares,” said Kimo Carvalho, executive director of HomeAid Hawaii. “They’re the ones who make this happen.”
Carvalho estimated that it cost around $11,000 to build each unit using donated or discounted materials and labor, and an additional $45,000 or so for indoor and outdoor furnishings that were discounted or donated.
Chris Dotson, owner of Mililani-based landscaping company Dotson Gardens, led a crew of 10 other volunteers readying more than 70 plants from a Waimanalo nursery for hand-built planter boxes and other arrangements at Pulama Ola.
“We’re going to add some more color and vibrancy to the front (of units) to make them nice,” he said.
Noriko Wada, a volunteer with the veteran-led disaster response organization Team Rubicon, took pride in tasks including sanding down planter boxes for staining to help make Pulama Ola ready and welcoming for occupants.
“Homelessness, or people in need — it’s easy to say government should do something,” she said. “We believe everybody can step up.”
All the work Wednesday took nearly 10 hours, and included an after-lunch visit by Green, who helped put a few of the finishing touches on the project and expressed appreciation for all the effort over the past several weeks.
Green, a medical doctor, said he intends to occasionally check in on guests at Pulama Ola as a physician, and he estimated that such a facility can save the health care system $12 million a year by reducing repeat visits to hospitals by homeless people.
“This is really meant to be a lifesaver for people who would otherwise go back and forth to the hospital constantly at great cost and great suffering,” he said.
Darrah Kauhane-Floerke, executive director of Project Vision, said how long guests stay at Pulama Ola will vary by their medical condition, possibly ranging from a few days to considerably longer.
The Queen’s Medical Center is across the street from Pulama Ola and is expected to make many referrals along with other hospitals in Honolulu’s urban core.
Homeless people, who comprise 30% of all emergency room visits, often end up on either side of Punchbowl Street sometimes still wearing hospital gowns and medical bracelets.
Pulama Ola, which translates as “embracing new life,” is intended to be only temporary, for perhaps six months or so, until hospitals can add more beds to care for patients who could be served by the medical respite kauhale.
After this period, units from Pulama Ola are intended to be used for a future general-use kauhale as part of Green’s expectation to develop a dozen or so tiny villages to help the homeless transition to permanent housing.
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