State funds help homeless pay rent
Hawaii News

State funds help homeless pay rent

  • BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Emma Kapiolani Garrett spoke with Gracie Suaglar, a housing specialist with the Institute for Human Services.

  • BRUCE ASATO / BASASTO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Emma Kapiolani Garrett, top, hopes to soon move into a new apartment. She has been living at Hale Mauliola shelter at Sand Island.

Emma Kapiolani Garrett is excited about the possibility of moving into her first studio apartment on her own, thanks to state money that went through Aloha United Way and then to Catholic Charities Hawaii.

Garrett, 55, spent about a year living in her 1992 Toyota Corolla in the parking lot of Windward Mall before securing shelter in a shipping container unit at the city’s Hale Mauliola on Sand Island.

She is among the more than 300 people who are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, primarily on Oahu, and who received assistance from a portion of the $900,000 in state funds that Aloha United Way distributed to 18 social service agencies in April in an effort to reduce the highest per capita homeless rate in the nation.

In six weeks, $211,433 of state money had been used to help 58 families, 186 adults and 129 minors as of Wednesday. Three-quarters of the people assisted are on Oahu.

Cindy Adams, AUW’s president and CEO, said some agencies that received the state funds must first spend any outstanding money they’ve already received from the state or counties for similar services. In those cases, Adams said, “they may be off to a slow start because they had to draw that down.”

Garrett, who is looking for a suitable and affordable apartment on Oahu, is a recovering alcoholic and crystal meth addict, and a survivor of nearly a lifetime of domestic abuse, including being shot point-blank in the stomach by her then-husband with a .22-caliber handgun in 1992.

“I never knew the word ‘hope,’” Garrett said Wednesday outside her unit at Hale Mauliola. “That’s the thing I should have done, get help. I could have used so many resources out there.”

Garrett was unaware of AUW’s 211 phone system, which is being overhauled to better direct homeless people — or those at risk of becoming homeless — to services that can help.

In all, AUW is responsible for disbursing $5 million in state funds over the next year to help 1,300 households get off the streets or avoid becoming homeless.

Once a homeless client such as Garrett qualifies for up to three months’ worth of help with rent, utilities or security deposits, the money is supposed to be in the hands of a landlord within five days, Adams said.

“On April 15 we formerly launched and opened our doors for business,” Adams said. “It’s meant to be a very clean, very efficient, relatively reasonable turnaround.”

As part of a series of homeless-related emergency proclamations, Gov. David Ige’s administration waived normal procurement rules and awarded AUW the contract to distribute the $5 million. AUW was selected, in part, because it already administers Federal Emergency Management Agency money for one-time rental and utilities assistance and to fund community food banks.

AUW is bearing a contribution of $500,000 to help agencies administer the state money.

Out of the $5 million, $4.7 is earmarked for one-time rent or deposit assistance for up to three months.

The remaining $300,000 will be used to hire two more staff members, improve AUW’s 211 phone system and commission a study of four distinct groups that affect homeless-related services: young adults who age out of the foster care system; newly released prisoners; recently discharged and recovering addicts; and the chronically homeless who rely on hospital emergency rooms.

AUW is expected to pick an organization to conduct the study within the next few days. It plans to put the completed study in the hands of state legislators by March, said Norm Baker, AUW’s chief operating officer.

Since April, 158 people have called the “211 Homeless Coordination Center.” Some 76 percent of callers who needed homeless-related services had pending evictions prevented after calling 211, according to AUW.

“There are a lot of gaps in knowledge in terms of what services are available,” Baker said. “We’re learning a lot.”

Callers to 211 most commonly received free cellphones, bus passes, training in “financial literacy” and help applying for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“The biggest thing is financial literacy,” Baker said. “Most people don’t take advantage of it.”

Based on a model suggested by Connie Mitchell, executive director of the Institute for Human Services, AUW developed a 75-question script that 211 call center workers started using Tuesday to better refer callers to appropriate agencies, Adams said.

“We realized we needed to create an instrument to better understand who we’re talking to,” Adams said. “This has been a learning process for us.”

Within a week or so, AUW plans to post weekly updates every Friday afternoon on its website, reporting the latest numbers of people being served through the state’s $5 million.

Garrett — a mother of seven including one teen still in high school — smiled broadly, and repeatedly — on Wednesday at the help she’s getting. She maintains it’s the start of “a brand-new chapter, all brand-new.

“It’s been a long journey,” she added. “I couldn’t have done this by myself.”

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  • What about those who work two jobs and contribute to our city? Why isn’t the government helping them, rather than forcing them to pay high taxes and fees that just go to those that aren’t contributing?

    • Also, wouldn’t the money be better spent helping the homeless relocate to a place where the cost of living is lower? If the real goal is to help them become self-sufficient, they have a better chance on the mainland. In Hawaii, they will forever be wards of the state, dependent on handouts like animals in a zoo who no longer have the skills to care for themselves.

    • The government WANTS them to become homeless so later down the line when it gets around to “helping” them for being homeless, the government gets credit for doing something to “alleviate the homeless problem” and everyone pats themselves on the back!

      Get it??

  • I don’t mind helping people like Garrett as long as the assistance doesn’t become a permanent entitlement. I’m concerned about the $300,000 being allotted for adding two more staff members at AUW. Even if AUW allocates $150,000 for upgrading their 211 phone system and commissions a study for four distinct groups that reflect homeless related services (whatever that is), the new hires will be getting $75,000 in salary and benefits. You know that AUW will be asking the State for money every year to keep paying the new hires and increase their bureaucracy. Makes you wonder how much money is really distributed to the poor and homeless and how much goes to paying for AUW salaries and benefits.

    • “”Garrett, who is looking for a suitable and affordable apartment on Oahu”>>> Who won’t FIND an affordable apartment and then be back out on the streets. We’ve simply postponed the inevitable and laid out a bunch of money to do so.

      • I think your assumption may not be correct. I would point to the Homeless Services Utilization Report which shows that most of the families who participate in rapid re-housing programs are in fact finding homes they can afford and they are able to maintain their housing. I thinks its safe to say there is a shortage of affordable housing in Honolulu, but that does not mean that affordable housing opportunities do not exist.

    • Do they back to being homeless and having legal issues of being evicted?? Being unable to keep up the rent of $1000/ month?…Sounds like a band aid situation!

  • Make the money productive. There are HUGE State maintenance needs. Rent for work. State public works project should be implemented where those with low employment options can earn the benefits the State is now giving away.

  • State money should never have used for charitable giving. It should be up to individuals to give to charities of their choices. The liberal “distribution of wealth” theory doesn’t work.

    • What we’re experiencing now is the result of the conservative “distribution of wealth”, where for decades Republicans have worked to take wealth from the middle class and low income and redistribute more and more of it to the already wealthy. The conservatives are reverse Peter Pans. They rob from the poor and middle class to give to the rich. It’s why we have more homeless. It’s why we have an affordable housing shortage. Poor and middle class conservatives just aren’t intelligent enough to see that, so they keep voting against their own self-interest.

  • Wow..interesting a mother of 7? She bail-out on her kids and now her kids bail-out on her. I hope an pray her kids did not follow in her foot-steps and made better choices.

    • “Garrett, who is looking for a suitable and affordable apartment on Oahu, is a recovering alcoholic and crystal meth addict, and a survivor of nearly a lifetime of domestic abuse, including being shot point-blank in the stomach by her then-husband with a .22-caliber handgun in 1992.”>>> Now, this is what I mean when I say that it’s never ONE thing that gets these people in their predicament, it’s a multitude of bad decisions. Along with having kids in an unstable relationship, I count at least 10 bad decisions – excluding the possibility of multiple partners.

  • The state is so generous with their money. Of the 8 hour shift that I will work today, how much of it will go toward supporting those who have simply made bad decisions? I’m not sure how much but I’m not too happy about it.

  • Emma has been attending our church for the past several years. We have gotten to know her as a woman who is very appreciative of help given to assist her in improving her situation. she is deeply grateful for the efforts done to help her overcome her circumstances, and I am so happy to see her profiled on this article and wish her all the best!!!

        • Yes, you are a correct. As a church we have embraced her and helped her on her spiritual and emotional path, as well as seeking the aid she needs to get housing and address her other needs that our church is unable to. it was someone affiliated w/ the church who generously donated a vehicle to her. We are a small church and on a good day we have 25 people attending service (that includes keiki). God bless.

    • I believe Emma is very grateful and I believe we should be helping the “locals” first then having some of these mainland folks flying in getting wasted and arrested and ending up at the shelters seeking help like that dude featured last week. I wish Emma and all the rest of the local homeless families many more positive blessings to help them on her way to a better life.

  • The wretched refuse of our teeming shores will continue to take hand outs as long as they are offered. Time to put our hands in our own pockets instead of them constantly putting theirs in ours.

  • It is nice to help people but this means nothing is she does learn out to make a living. Why should able bodied people get money for doing nothing? Spend the money on teaching them a trade.The construction business is booming here. We can’t get a contracted out to our house they are all so busy. They don’t have to be a contractor, they can dig ditches or just assist.

  • That money is not “state funds”, it’s money stolen from the working taxpayers and “redistributed” to mostly lazy, drug addicted, alcoholic, bums by our overly corrupt politicians.

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