Hawaii church deploys dome community to shelter the homeless

From the Vatican to Notre Dame, some of the most resilient structures in the world have one thing in common—the architectural use of the circle. Officials at the First Assembly of God in Honolulu believe the present solution to Hawaii’s enduring homelessness crisis involves the same 360 degree formula, providing the homeless with shelter and spirituality in a community of fiberglass domes.

The church plans to deploy 12 of the igloo-like structures on church property in Windward Oahu within the next month. The omnispheres, which are manufactured by the Juneau-based company InterShelter, are 12-feet high and 20-feet in diameter and can each house up to five people.

hawaii domesArmy Corp podHawaii Gov. David Ige declared a state of emergency on homelessness in October. Facilities Pastor Daniel Kaneshiro said the church had begun drafting a tangible solution to the problem last summer.

Since the declaration, federal funds have been allotted to the Housing First initiative in Hawaii, a nationally recognized model that enables individuals to obtain housing through a standard lease of contract—regardless of whether or not they struggle with substance abuse. Kaneshiro said the Shelter ministry is not a part of Housing First.

Hawaii domes laundry room“We’re seeing ourselves as having a specific niche,” Kaneshiro said. “That is, to work with the emergency shelters and to free up their bed space by having them let out people who are drug free and alcohol free but have just had a hard economic turn for the worst.”

Kaneshiro said the church feels that God is the supernatural agent for change.

“We are not going to sacrifice the spiritual aspect of what we feel is an important part of permanent change,” Kaneshiro said. “With that being said, besides the connection to social and health services and spiritual aspect that we are going to overlay, we are looking to train people for careers and enable them to be hired by us.”

Kaneshiro said that while the domes are not the best possible solution, they may be better than some of the alternatives.

hawaii domes MASH UNIT POD“The city is using shipping containers to house the homeless and our concern is that they’re very hot because they’re metal,” Kaneshiro said. “They require intensive air conditioning and are prone to rust.”

The white fiberglass the domes are constructed of reflects heat, keeping the interior of the structures 10 to 15 degrees cooler than the outside temperature. Each dome will cost the church about $10,000. Captain Don Kubley is the owner of InterShelter, the only company in the world that manufactures the omnispheres. The domes have also been used by wildlife parks, the Navy and refugee camps.

“They’re as portable and mobile as a tent but once they’re up they are a virtual storm shelter,” Kubley said. “The applications for the domes are unlimited. Both for homeless and migrant worker housing and for retail, office space and ebola clinics. Doctors Without Borders uses us in Africa.”

Each dome can fit into the back of a pick-up truck and be assembled within a few hours. The structures can be reconfigured to form connected units equipped with bathrooms and kitchens.

hawaii domes pod_20sunset“If you’re homeless, you have no way to protect your belongings,” Kubley said. “With the domes there are two locks on each door, so a homeless person can acquire and keep the essentials they need to get back on their feet and get a job.”

The church is also looking at self-sustaining farm initiatives that use the excretions of tilapia fish as fertilizer for vegetables. Kaneshiro said he hopes to train participants in the different aspects of the organic farming industry.

“They can not only get permanently employed with health benefits but also contribute to a very health objective career,” Kaneshiro said. “Housing is just a small component of a holistic strategy to get people off the street and integrated back into the community.”


Shelby Grebbin is an intern and reporter at Spare Change News.

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