“‘Āina i ka houpō o Kāne.”
Land in the breast of Kāne.
Said of Puna’s lands that are especially beautiful and full of the waters of life.
Puna is a 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 underdeveloped “subdivisions.” People living in Puna subdivisions are often responsible for their own water, waste, and sometimes power. 70% of households in Puna do not have access to County water in their homes and must collect rainwater for daily household needs. Many homes are “energy independent,” using a combination of solar, wind, and generators to meet electrical needs.
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. It is one of the last places local families can find affordable housing, and also one of the fastest-growing districts on the island. Many families in Puna also live in substandard or non-conventional housing. During yearly storms and vulnerable stages of childhood, these conditions may take a toll on the health of children and families. Lava flows and the risk of displacement from disasters like hurricanes or job loss in the pandemic mean looking out for our local community even more. While Puna is beautifully abundant with natural resources and a tight-knit community, other important resources such as public waterworks, public transportation, phone, and cell service are not always readily available to our residents. Improving stability and quality of life for our district is important for our keiki’s future.
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 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 assist 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.
Due to gentrification, the rising cost of living, and stagnating wages in Hawai’i, many families do not have adequate housing, and large percentages of our homeless population are actually minor children. In Hawaii County, families specifically experience disproportionate rates of homelessness. In addition to this, approximately 50% of Native Hawaiians no longer live in the state of Hawaii -many citing economic reasons. When local families experience homelessness it has generational impacts: 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 with long-term social impacts, but right now, we are far behind that goal.
Children experiencing homelessness are generally more likely to have Adverse Childhood Experiences. No child deserves to experience stress unnecessarily when we as a community can come together to change things. 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. That’s why NPP exists, to make sure families get the support they need. If you’d like to join one of our partner advocacy coalitions, check out Community Alliance Partners, our Big Island advocacy group working to end homelessness, and the East Hawaii Coalition to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect (EHCAN), the Interfaith Communities in Action, and the Vibrant Hawai’i Housing Coalition.
We all work together in our community to help make a positive change and hope you will join us too.
How We Help
Neighborhood Place of Puna is one of the few organizations that Puna families can call for help when needed. Today, we offer a variety of support programs through the Family Resource Center which provides basic supplies, parenting classes, and housing navigation to East Hawaii Families. We can also meet clients where they are (at home or in a public place) if transportation is an issue through the Family Strengthening resource program.
Please consider helping families in need with a donation to our programs.
“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 support Neighborhood Place of Puna. For support, call 965-5550.Donate