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 caldera of the volcano, Puna runs all the way down to the ocean.

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 rainwater for daily household needs. Many homes are “energy independent,” using a combination of solar, wind, and generators to meet their electrical needs.

Possibly due to socio-economic pressures, 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.

Because of it’s rougher living and unique environment, 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-traditional housing, improvised shelters, or under tarps. While most of the year Hawai’i’s weather allows for humble camping conditions, during yearly storms and vulnerable stages of childhood these conditions can take a tool on the health of our local 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 always 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 and 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, it was obvious that 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, we helped Leilani move in and find some basic furniture to furnish her new home.

Happily, 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 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 them in their homes, so that access to transportation is not an issue. They 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 these families with a donation to Neighborhood Place of Puna’s Family Strengthening Program.

Scrap Wood Family Cabin

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

Puna Style Living Room

Outdoor Living Room: In rural Hawai’i, it is common to camp outside, enjoy the outdoors and live humbly often in off-grid and/or makeshift settings. The heartiness of our local residents is apparent, while we at Neighborhood Place of Puna still recognize low-income needs to provide higher quality of life when and if necessary and desired.


“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 hearty like the ancient warriors of old.

Your generous contributions to organizations like ours help us to develop and support healthy and resilient networks in our local communities, keeping Puna strong.