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Iwilei Women’s and Children’s Homeless Shelter

Green roof to feed homeless in Honolulu

Iwilei Women’s and Children’s Homeless Shelter / The Institute of Human Services (IHS) is installing a rooftop aquaponics garden on its Iwilei Women’s and Children’s Homeless Shelter.

“We wanted to demonstrate that we really could contribute to food sustainability here in Hawaii,” said Connie Mitchell, executive director of IHS.

Planning and fund-development for a photovoltaic solar electric system is also underway. These green initiatives have been adopted in an effort to increase the facility’s food security and decrease energy costs.

“Right now, about 85 percent of our food is donated from the Foodbank and other sources in the community,” said Mitchell. “Unfortunately, fresh vegetables are rarely available, and nutritional standards sometimes fall below federal USDA guidelines.”

Recirculation aquaculture and hydroponics are combined to grow fish and plants in one integrated ecosystem (see page 9). The fish waste provides nutrients for the growing plants, and the plants act as a natural filter for the water the fish live in.

The rooftop aquaponics garden will create a sustainable food source, producing approximately 40 pounds of fresh lettuce per week. The plan is to grow other highly nutritious vegetables such as kale and tomatoes to help continue improving the guests’ menu and diet.

“The other really exciting thing is that when people engage in the activity of cultivating the plants, and begin to understand that they can take responsibility, it is something that feeds people in a different way,” said Mitchell. “For people that are homeless and living in a shelter, feeling like [they] have lost a lot of competency around a lot of issues in life, and are struggling to build a new life…it really does give people hope.”

Guests at the shelter will have the opportunity to participate in the cultivation, maintenance and harvesting of the garden to develop work skills training, and help contribute to the shelter community operations.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about the project is that it is a solution born out of a pro-active response to the shortage of resources that the economic downturn has brought upon us all.

Leyla Cabugos, the botanist responsible for conducting UH Mänoa’s first green roof master’s thesis research project, has studied and worked in her field internationally, is a consultant on the project.

“Aquaponic food production takes a handful of problems: the need to feed plants, clean and pump water, and if you extend it by composting, kitchen waste disposal and fish food,” said Cabugos. “By linking processes together, it creates a way of growing a lot of food in small spaces that aren’t suited for traditional agriculture.”

“In a time when demonstration projects are needed to encourage the adoption of each of these technologies in Hawaii, this project combines them in a way that I have yet to see anywhere in the world,” she said. “In this way, the IHS project will offer lessons in self-sufficiency not only to IHS guests, but to the State and international community as well.”

By simply focusing on how to benefit our community and environment, IHS has created a solution which embraces the triple-bottom-line of social, environmental and economic sustainability.

“We’ve raised about $30,000 so far and will probably need about $100,000 in order to complete the project successfully,” said Mitchell, whose smile reveals her optimism. “If a homeless shelter can actually do this, then maybe everybody can get on the bandwagon and start growing their own vegetables.”

ABOUT IHS: IHS is Oahu’s only 24-hour emergency walk-in shelter for men, women and families with children who are homeless. It currently provides three hot meals daily, an average of 650 meals a day, 365 days per year. This tremendous effort is possible through the support of the community and volunteers. IHS is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. To find out more about how to support or contribute to the project, contact Kate Bepko, PR and Volunteer Manager at 808-447-2811, or visit: []