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Dome-estic Life in Christ

Long-delayed Hawaiian igloos are dedicated, ready for residents.

Menaced by a hurricane, an erupting volcano, and an ever-growing spool of bureaucratic red tape, two years after First Assembly of Honolulu Senior Pastor Klayton Ko felt prodded by the Holy Spirit to build a Christian community for homeless single moms and children, The Shelter is ready for residents.

The Oct. 24 dedication of the pilot program, which uses 12 fiberglass igloos to meet a critical housing need for the rising homeless population on the islands, brought together 175 leaders from First Assembly, churches within and outside the AG Hawaii District, government, businesses, and civic groups.

The program marks the first-ever Hawaiian use of these domes as viable options to other structures, such as shipping containers, for sheltering the homeless.
Pastors hope to see the program used as a model throughout Hawaii and beyond.

“It’s been a long journey, but not a wasted two years,” says Ko, who is also Hawaii Assemblies of God district superintendent. After he says the Holy Spirit burdened him to respond to homelessness by building shelters, the church has been at the forefront regarding faith-based solutions in Hawaii, including hosting a summit and partnering with government agencies and nongovernmental organizations to find sustainable answers for those without a place to live.

“It’s been a journey working with the city and making sure that all the agencies and permit processes were done correctly,” Ko says. That way, after launching the program in the regulation-heavy state, no legal questions would force its closure, and other churches and charities could follow the same steps to replicate the project.

“The city realizes that the homeless crisis is bigger than the government can handle by itself,” Ko says. “They need the faith community to partner with them.”

Daniel Kaneshiro, director of The Shelter, notes that skyrocketing rents for basic studio apartments keep housing out of reach for an increasing number of Hawaiians.

Among city and state government officials, the discussion has centered on whether what originally was intended to be transitional housing could be considered a permanent remedy, says Kaneshiro, who also is First AG Honolulu’s facilities pastor. To create several thousand more units of affordable housing will take years.

“Igloos may be a possible Plan B solution as part of the overall solution,” Kaneshiro says.

Recent natural disasters in Hawaii have underscored the can't-wait nature of addressing this issue. The explosive eruption in May of volcano Kilauea continued for three months and destroyed 700 homes, leaving swaths of land uninhabitable and thousands of people homeless. Likewise, Hurricane Lane also impacted the Aloha State. Such disasters seem to be coming with increasing frequency.

For Kaneshiro and Ko, the process of bringing The Shelter to life has reinforced the essential nature of the spiritual component to address the roots of homelessness.

“Ultimately, this is not about housing,” Kaneshiro says. “It’s the change of the heart that's going to be the root of transformation of this problem in Hawaii.”

“The change of the heart will make an everlasting difference,” Ko told the diverse attendees at the dedication. “Everyone can do something. What happens if all of us would just pray a simple prayer: What can I do? You never know. God might answer you.”

Other developers and other states have embraced the concept of housing homeless people in igloos, which are attractive and well-suited to humid, tropical climates.

A coalition of these churches, charities, and businesses raised the funds for the Hawaii project. Nine domes will serve as domiciles for single moms and their children. Two are bathroom facilities, and one is the residence of the on-site property manager. The church is raising funds to operate the program, which Kaneshiro says will average nine months, aimed at transitioning the homeless into greater self-sufficiency.

“Our focus is spiritual program and discipleship: training them with skills, helping them to become self-sufficient, getting them employed, and moving them into an independent living situation,” he says. “The goal is a transitional discipleship program that will take them off the streets to nice living quarters where there are people who love them.”

One of the main problems with homelessness is isolation, Ko says. The Shelter is located on the four acres of the church’s Windward campus.

“We want to adopt them into the faith community,” Ko says. “With the program and compassionate arm of the church, we believe there's a greater chance that somebody living on the street will be able to get back into a normal living situation.”

An essential element to the program is treating the homeless with dignity due God’s children, according to Ko.

“I wanted our shelter to look beautiful so they will feel good about moving in and feel valued,” he says.

The Shelter already has a waiting list, Kaneshiro says. Residents will begin to move onto the property soon. A coalition of churches, charities, businesses, and many individuals financed the Hawaii project through special offerings.

Deann Alford

Deann Alford is a journalist and author. She attends Glad Tidings of Austin, an Assemblies of God congregation in the Texas capital.