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Nonprofit offers temporary housing for displaced Maui residents

The structures from Hungary-based company Continest can break down to less than two feet tall and can stack on top of each other.
Nonprofit offers temporary housing for displaced Maui residents
Posted at 4:53 PM, Aug 25, 2023

Maude Cumming has worked to help put roofs over heads on Maui for decades, and she remembers the moment two weeks ago when she realized the scope of the loss in Lahaina. 

The deadliest U.S. fire in more than a 100 years displaced thousands. As CEO of the Family Life Center, a nonprofit whose 40-year-old mission is to stabilize Hawaiians in time of need, Cumming and her team got to work.

"It's just unbelievable. It's hard to wrap your mind around," said Cumming. "I was shocked at what I started to see. But then, so immediately, the day after the fire, we started planning and thinking about what could we do? How could we respond? And we knew that we had to, our response has to be quick."

They realized plans in place wouldn't fill the need, and found a product that had helped in other places where disaster had struck.

"We set up a refugee camp in Ukraine. We did a mobile medical aid station in Uganda. And so they said, if you can similarly deploy a rapid solution to Hawaii, we'd love to have you," said Al Smith, the director of strategy at Continest.

"This is intended to be temporary, but it is intended to provide a home, that's not permanent, but that would be comfortable while people heal," said Cumming. 

SEE MORE: What is the plan to rebuild Lahaina?

The structures from Hungary-based company Continest can break down to less than two feet tall and can stack on top of each other. It takes between three to five minutes to set up the foldable structures, with just a few people and a forklift. Plus, the company could get units to this island quickly.

"For the past week, we've pulled every favor under the sun, including a heavy airlift out of Hungary to get the units here on a NATO plane. So this has been a massive lift with a lot of moving parts. But so many people have stepped forward to help. So it's been an incredible effort," said Smith.

The units can be placed side by side to make larger spaces for families. Cumming hopes to have people moving in by the end of next month.

"Everyone who was impacted deserves a house, but we wanted something we can erect quickly, but still have all the amenities of home," said Ashley Kelly, COO of Family Life Center.

Each unit will have its own bathroom and kitchen added on. A company called RevoluSun from Oahu donated solar panels and batteries with the hopes this will be a totally off-grid project. The units will sit on land being leased from King's Cathedral Church.

The next challenge is getting a more permanent water source and sewer, but they're working on it every day.

"Two weeks ago, I could never have imagined that two weeks later, we will be doing something of this scope and this magnitude, and I'm just amazed at how it has come together," said Cumming. 

"I think this serves as a model and sort of a beacon of hope that people are moving as fast as humanly possible to provide aid to people that need it," said Smith. 

Once displaced families find more permanent housing solutions, these units can be used as transitional housing for other unhoused people.

"They can always be used, no matter what the situation," said Cumming. 

SEE MORE: Lahaina residents split on welcoming tourists back to the island

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