Puna, Hawai‘i

Puna, Hawaii

“‘Āina i ka houpō o Kāne.”

Land in the breast of Kāne.

Said of lands that were especially beautiful and full of the waters of life.

Puna is a large rural district located on the East – windward – side of the Big Island, Hawaii. Puna covers an area almost the same size as the entire island of O’ahu. It is located south of the city of Hilo and contains large areas of protected forest including the Volcanos national park with the very active Kilauea volcano. From the 4000 foot elevation at the summit of Kilauea, Puna runs from mountain top to sea.

Puna contains many large undeveloped “subdivisions.” People living in Puna subdivisions are often responsible for their own water, waste, and sometimes power while living off-grid. 70% of households in Puna do not have county water in their homes and collect catchment rainwater for daily household needs. Many homes are “energy independent,” using a combination of solar, wind, and generators to meet electrical needs.

Likey due to socio-economic pressures and historical trauma, Puna has some of the highest rates of child abuse and neglect per capita in the state. We know from research there is a correlation between poverty, isolation, and lack of access to basic services and child abuse and neglect.

Puna is home to some lowest income communities on the island, with certain neighborhoods exceeding 30% of households with incomes below the poverty level. Many families live in substandard or non-conventional housing. While most of the year Hawai’i’s weather allows for humble camping conditions, during yearly storms and vulnerable stages of childhood these conditions may take a toll on the health of children and families. While Puna is beautifully abundant with natural resources and a tight-knit community, other important industrial resources like grid energy, public water works, public transportation, phone and cell service are not readily available.


NPP In Your Neighborhood — A Case Story

When Neighborhood Place of Puna staff met Leilani and her two year-old daughter, they had been living in an unpermitted, scavenged, wood structure for six months. It was a rental located in a very isolated part of Puna.

They paid rent but did not have electricity or running water. They cooked on a camp stove and used candles and lanterns for lighting. The restroom was an improvised outhouse. Water, for cooking and cleaning, was collected at a public tap and kept in small jugs. It was heated on the camp stove for the baby’s bath.

While they were thankful to have shelter, the rough living situation was taking a toll.

To help support her and her baby, Neighborhood Place of Puna helped Leilani find a small permitted home they could afford. We partnered with another agency to help with the security deposit, first month’s rent, and utility deposit. Once the lease was signed, Neighborhood Place of Puna helped Leilani move in and find some basic furniture to furnish her new home.

Since then, Leilani and her two year-old are now able to take hot showers, cook on a safer stove, keep food cool in a refrigerator, and have electricity for lighting and other appliances after dark. They are happier and are doing well.


How We Help

Neighborhood Place of Puna is one of the few organizations that Puna families can call for help. We work with clients in their homes, so that access to transportation is not an issue. Clients may ask for help with parenting or something more basic, like making sure their shelter remains dry during the heavy Puna rains.

Every family is different but they all need our help. Please consider helping families in need with a donation to Neighborhood Place of Puna’s Family Strengthening Program.

Scrap Wood Family Cabin
Family Dwelling Structure: Due to the housing crisis in all of Hawai’i, with Hawai’i leading the United States in homelessness -and nearly half of all Native Hawaiians living away from the islands in part to support their families during times of economic instability- many Puna families resort to humble living structures in order to continue to call Hawai’i home.

Puna Style Living Room

In rural Hawai’i, it is common to gather outside, often kitchen and living room areas are improvised outdoors. While increased outdoor living can be wonderful, this should never be a family’s only option.


“He ‘iki hala au no Kea’au, ‘a’ohe pōhaku alā e nahā ‘ai.”

I am a small hala fruit of Kea’au, but there is no rock strong enough to crush me.

Said of those who are “Puna Strong” and resilient.

Your donations to our programs help us to support healthy local communities.