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 Oahu. 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.” Generally, people living in these subdivisions are responsible for their own water, waste, and sometimes power. 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.
Child abuse and neglect are a problem in Puna. Puna has some of the highest rates of child abuse and neglect, per capita, in the state. While there are many causes that lead to the abuse or neglect of a child, there is a correlation between poverty, isolation, and lack of access to basic services and child abuse and neglect.
Unfortunately, Puna also has some of the poorest communities on the island, with certain neighborhoods exceeding 30% of households with incomes below the poverty level. Many of the poorer families live in substandard housing, improvised shelters, or under tarps. They may catch rainwater in buckets or other small containers. It is likely they don’t have power and use a camp stove for cooking. These families are often isolated and a lack of access to transportation. They certainly don’t have internet and their cellular service, if they have it, is probably spotty.
NPP In Your Neighborhood
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 toilet 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 primitive living situation was taking a toll.
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 proper stove, keep food cool in a refrigerator, and use electric lights 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 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.