• Nani Medeiros

Tiny House. BIG Idea.

When we were first asked by Hawaii Lt. Governor Josh Green to kokua with his fresh out of the box Kauhale Initiative...we jumped at the chance. As a private non-profit who had never collaborated directly with government on a housing project related to homelessness, we were intrigued at the possibility, and encouraged by the new perspective and approach of "Community First."

The Kauhale Initiative is a public-private partnership that will build tiny-home kauhale villages across the state. The villages will be home to some of our neighbors who have experienced long-term, persistent homelessness. What makes the kauhale village so unique and compelling, is the element of being community driven and community-centered. Contrary to past efforts to focus on a "housing first" model and enhanced "enforcements" or "sweeps" of homeless encampments, the kauhale village puts people first, community first.

Kauhale villages will be master-planned communities that offer residents and neighbors a sense of community, home, belonging, responsibility, and dignity. Some of the "extras" we hope to be able to provide in the villages are micro-enterprise opportunities, on-site jobs, open spaces, micro-farm space, walkable and bike friendly communities, health care, mental health services, substance abuse counseling, and community events (i.e. movie nights.)

When possible, "neighbors" (future residents of the kauhale village) will be consulted in the design process of the kauhale, giving them a voice in contributing to the very landscape and home design of the community they will be living in. This special process gives neighbors a sense of dignity and contribution that engages them in a very accountable way. Neighbors will be involved in the development of rules for the community; there may be opportunities to earn a dignified income through various on-site jobs or micro-enterprises that start up. Neighbors will also pay rent. The kauhale is a community that neighbors (residents) will malama and be accountable for, just as we are in our own communities.

Getting back to treating each of our neighbors like human beings again is the heart of this initiative...remembering that without human connection we are lost. For too many years, our homeless neighbors have been isolated and alienated by some of the well-intended approaches to help provide housing...even the language used to describe them has been hurtful. "Homeless" is an adjective, not a noun...and yet repeatedly they are referred to as "homeless" ...as if that is all they are...no longer seen as a person, a woman, a man, a young teenager in need of help...a veteran, a teacher, a widow, a kupuna.

I am so grateful and honored to be a part of this amazing journey to discover kauhale villages in our toolkit to end homelessness in Hawaii. Kauhale will provide so much more than a house: COMMUNITY | FAMILY | DIGNITY.

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