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. From the 4000 foot elevation at the summit of Kilauea, Puna runs from mountain top to sea.

Puna residents tend to live in agricultural subdivisions and are often independently responsible for their water, waste, and sometimes electricity when off-grid.

Due in part to disproportionate poverty, Puna, and Big Island in general has some of the highest rates of child abuse and neglect per capita in the state. According to recent data from the Department of Health, children on Big Island are more than twice as likely to experience abuse than average statewide. We know from research there is a correlation between poverty, isolation, and lack of access to basic services and child abuse and neglect. We work to address these needs to help uplift children, families and our greater community.

Puna is home to some lowest income communities on the island, with certain neighborhoods exceeding 30% of households with incomes below the poverty level.


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 and Hilo families can call on 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 rains. Today, we’ve expanded our programs to offer both in-home family strengthening and parenting programs, and Ho’ola ‘Ohana Pilina counseling program. We also support families experiencing homelessness at our Family Assessment Center.

Scrap Wood Family Cabin
Due to gentrification, real estate markets and housing stock in Hawai’i, many families do not have adequate housing. Approximately 50% of Native Hawaiians no longer live in the state of Hawaii, and in Hawaii County families specifically experience disproportionate rates of homelessness.  Children experiencing homelessness are at greater risk of missing school, experiencing abuse, experiencing trafficking, and experiencing homelessness as adults. Big Island will need 13,300 new homes built by 2025 to avoid a mass housing crisis, but we are far behind that goal.

Children experiencing homelessness are more likely to have Adverse Childhood Experiences. We know that challenges like these may contribute to child abuse and neglect in our community, and other negative long term outcomes, so we come together to support families in need.


“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.

Donate to NPP to support our family shelter and in-home outreach and counseling programs. For support, call 965-5550.