Photo/IllutrationDuane Kurisu, right, who is developing a village with temporary housing for homeless people in Honolulu, and Ronald Kauai, who moved there in January (Yu Miyaji)

  • Photo/Illustraion

HONOLULU--Homeless families such as Ronald Kauai and his young grandchild now have a roof over their heads, thanks to temporary shelters that once housed evacuees from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

The temporary dwellings were imported from Japan to accommodate the increasing number of homeless on Oahu Island.

Kauai, 48, who lived on the streets in Honolulu with his 5-year-old grandchild after losing his job and becoming unable to pay his rent, said he appreciates his new home and wants to carefully maintain it while planting trees and plants around the building.

The project is the brainchild of Duane Kurisu, 64, a third-generation Japanese-American businessman, who hit upon the idea after he saw prefabricated dwellings in the quake-devastated Tohoku region.

Located in an area covered with red soil along a highway 10 kilometers northwest of Waikiki on the southern island, Kahauiki Village is lined with common one-story houses designed for Japanese evacuees.

Although the exterior of the buildings is not different from that of ordinary temporary shelters, the inside walls have been strengthened to resemble normal residences.

Along with a living room, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and shower facility, each also is equipped with a refrigerator, gas range and even tableware to allow residents to start their life there without bringing in any goods or furniture with them.

Solar panels are installed to slash fuel and lighting expenses. A system to store extra electricity has also been introduced in line with Kurisu’s wish to make Kahauiki not merely a temporary evacuation center but a place where people can lead their lives with pride.

Kurisu, a local businessman who runs a real estate dealership, radio station and magazine publisher, decided to develop the village around three years ago, when he read an article by his publishing firm’s writer that mentioned the writer’s homeless father.

Oahu, which is home to Honolulu, is suffering from a steep rise in land prices, resulting in a growing number of homeless individuals. Their number dropped this year by 10 percent from the previous year, but 4,500 people are still living on the streets.

Determined to solve the housing issue and working with local authorities and businesses, Kurisu signed a 10-year renewable contract to rent the State of Hawaii land measuring 45,000 square meters for 111 yen ($1) per year through the mediation of the Honolulu government.

The challenge was securing dwellings for homeless people.

After contemplating how to cut building costs and quickly construct strong residences, Kurisu came up with a plan to introduce prefabricated homes for evacuees he saw in the Tohoku region.

He visited Tohoku immediately after the 2011 disaster and solicited donations in Hawaii to help quake-hit areas.

Kurisu decided to import Japan-made temporary homes because they are strong and have high heat-blocking ability that can protect residents from the hot weather of Hawaii. In addition, prefabricated buildings can be promptly erected.

He has purchased a total of 34 Tohoku evacuee homes from their Tokyo-based constructor, System House R & C Co., to date.

Under Kurisu’s plan, 1.76 billion yen of the 2.2 billion yen costs to develop Kahauiki will be covered with contributions from local companies and other private groups. Kurisu said he has already received 880 million yen in donations.

The monthly housing rent at Kahauiki is 80,000 yen or 100,000 yen, depending on the size of the home, roughly half the average rent of apartments of the same size in Honolulu. Lighting and fuel are included in the rent.

A day nursery, a grocery store and police box are expected to be added there. As a company has pledged to hire Kahauiki residents, job-seeking support and vocational training are planned to be offered as well in the village.

In January this year, part of Kahauiki was completed, enabling 60 adults and 63 children to start their new lives in a total of 30 homes. All the families were homeless.

Kahauiki is expected to be fully completed by summer 2019, creating a large community that will have a population of 629 and 153 houses. That means about half of the homeless individuals with children on Oahu can find homes there.

Kurisu said he is happy that temporary housing in disaster-hit Tohoku is being reused as new homes for people in Hawaii and that he is looking forward to his village’s completion.