Maui Red Cross Shelters Closing As Displaced Residents Move To Hotels

Officials said Thursday they were confident that they had capacity to meet the need.

Within the next week, the American Red Cross will close its five congregate shelters on Maui and will transfer people displaced by the wildfires to hotel rooms, where they will live free of charge.

Officials said that 750 hotel rooms had been secured for the use of displaced Maui residents, and that local hotels had been cooperative with authorities in making these plans.

Brad Kieserman, Vice President for Disaster Operations for the American Red Cross, said Lahaina was one of the most devastating aftermath scenes he had ever witnessed.

Image shows before (left) and after (right) aerial views of the destruction from Eagleview Technologies (eagle

“I have been to most major disasters in the United States in the past decade, this is unprecedented, I don’t like to use that word, but folks, I have to tell you it’s truly unprecedented in terms of the scope of destruction, the speed of the fire, the level of fatality and physical destruction, the level of trauma by those who survived,” he said at a Federal Emergency Management Agency press briefing Thursday. “It’s unspeakable.”

Kieserman said that the one cheering note he has witnessed since his arrival on Maui has been the outpouring of assistance from charitable organizations, private donations and the efforts of more than 4,000 local volunteers, who he described specifically as Hawaiians, who he said have engaged in all kinds of community support activities.

A number of other charitable organizations, including the Salvation Army, a long-time fixture on Maui, also gave presentations at the same briefing about the scope and scale of the assistance and services they are offering. Salvation Army, for example, has been providing 12,000 meals daily, while others are providing counseling services or prepared foods that people can take home.

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Kieserman said some of the fire victims have already begun moving into the hotels. They will be lodged in hotels, not in short-term rentals such as AirBnBs, to ensure the locations meet commercial inspection standards, Keiserman said, noting they would be “places where survivors can be safe.”

The hotel rooms are being made available to people who were residents of the fire zone and who register with FEMA to become eligible for the program, they said.

They said that this housing will also become available to people who have been choosing to live in tents, in cars, with relatives or in parking lots because they did not want to stay at the shelters. People who moved to hotels at their own expense will be eligible for reimbursement for the costs.

Archie Kalepa organizes his neighborhood’s supplies Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023, north of Lahaina town and south of Kaanapali. A large fire consumed areas of West Maui last week. Utilities have not been fully restored.  (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)Download Image
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The VP of Disaster Operations for the American Red Cross said that 4,000 volunteers, including many from Hawaiian communities like Wahikuli, had added to the outpouring of organizational assistance for survivors of Maui’s wildfires. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

All the wraparound services — including health care, counseling, financial assistance and food — that have been offered at the shelters by an array of nonprofit disaster relief organizations will remain available to survivors even as they transfer into other lodging.

“We are going to be able to take care of this population,” Kieserman said.

Officials said they were “confident” there would be adequate rooms for everyone who needs them.

The hotel accommodations are being arranged by the American Red Cross under a contract with the federal government and the state.

They said that the federal government will pay the bulk of the expense but that a portion of the tab will be picked up by the state government. That exact ratio is the subject of continuing negotiations, they said.

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Under law, federal money can only be used to house American citizens and authorized residents, but they said that money from donors will be used to pay for the accommodations and services needed by those who are not in the United States with legal status, so they don’t expect that anyone will be turned away.

Residents can stay there as long as the disaster relief efforts are underway, officials said, and while plans for alternative housing are prepared.

“We will be able to leave people in hotel rooms for as long as it takes until they find housing,” Keiserman said. “I expect it to be a considerable period of time.”

So far, FEMA has approved more than $3.8 million in assistance to 1,640 households. Agency officials said that more than 5,000 have registered for aid from FEMA.

The fire destroyed at least 2,200 structures, about 1,500 of them residential.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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