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Isles’ working homeless are focus of aid program

As many as 100 working-yet-homeless families across the islands will each be eligible for up to $9,000 over the next year, beginning July 15, with the funds aiming to get them off the street and into rental housing as fast as possible.

The new program will provide a total of $600,000 worth of rental assistance from Hawaii Public Housing Authority funds, which will reach needy families faster because of a series of emergency homeless proclamations signed by Gov. David Ige to combat the highest per capita rate of homelessness in the nation.

The announcement comes as two organizations, Partners in Care and Bridging the Gap, this morning are scheduled to release the latest census of Hawaii’s homeless, who were counted the week of Jan. 25 as a part of a nationwide survey. Federal officials this fall are then expected to announce each community’s per capita rankings.

For more information, call:

>> Oahu: 521-4357.
>> Maui (including Molokai and Lanai: 873-4673.
>> Hawaii island: 961-7050.
>> Kauai: 241-4673.
Source: Catholic Charities Hawaii

Housing officials told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Tuesday that it would normally take about a year to work through the process of changing administrative rules, soliciting bids and finally picking a social service provider to match homeless families with rental homes using the $600,000 in housing authority money.

Just to change the housing authority’s administrative rules to fund only homeless working families would have required “going through six to eight months of rule-making,” said Hakim Ouansafi, executive director of the state Public Housing Authority.

Instead, beginning next month, homeless families who qualify will be eligible for up to $1,000 per month in rental assistance for as long as six months, Ouansafi said. They would then be eligible for an additional $500 per month up to another six months, he said.

“These folks had really unfortunate circumstances that led them to lose a home,” he said. “Their concentration now is surviving. This program gives them an ability to get a roof over their head and increase their income.”

Successful applicants must earn 50 percent or less of Hawaii’s average median income, said Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator.

But most people helped by the Hawaii Public Housing Authority tend to earn even less, about 30 percent of the area median income, Ouansafi said.

“I don’t get excited a lot,” he said, “but everyone did their part to help someone sleeping on the street. It’s a continuous effort I haven’t seen before from top to bottom — without red tape or delays — to help someone on the beach or in a tent get a home.”

The program is separate from the $4.7 million in state funds that Aloha United Way began disbursing April 15 to help both homeless people and those at risk of becoming homeless.

As of friday more families at risk of becoming homeless — 176 — had received the state money through AUW than those who were actually homeless — 57.

In addition, the housing authority program is different from the much-talked-about “Housing First” concept aimed at encouraging private landlords to rent to homeless people, including those who might suffer from substance abuse or mental health problems.

The new Hawaii Public Housing Authority program is only for working families without such problems and “who have jobs but always come short each month X amount of dollars,” Ouansafi said.

Social service agencies that refer working homeless clients to the new funds will be required to provide up to six months of assistance to the new tenants, said Rona Fukumoto, division administrator for housing assistance for Catholic Charities Hawaii, which will run the program.

“They’re not going to be mentally ill or on drugs,” Fukumoto said. “The level of care is not the same.”

The new approach represents “a substantial change” for the housing authority, Ouansafi said. “For this push it’s just the homeless.”

Ige’s proclamations also enabled the housing authority to bypass normal procurement rules to choose Catholic Charities Hawaii to be in charge of matching qualified homeless families with rental units, with the help of social services agencies on all islands.

Ouansafi said the entire effort “translates to a homeless person having a roof earlier.”

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  • I’d much rather help the working homeless than the freeloaders. But that $9,000 could be used to help the person relocate to a place where the cost of living is lower and they have a chance at being self-sufficient. And the government should not be subsidizing businesses who don’t pay employees enough — if the wages here do not allow employees to live here, business will be forced to raise wages or not have any employees. But right now, the businesses don’t have to raise wages, because the State steps in and subsidizes the employees who don’t earn enough. That is not a long-term fix.

    • While I agree it’s not a long-term fix, it’s finally a step in the right direction…a program that doesn’t reward drug dependent freeloaders (i.e., Housing First). Make all homeless aid tied to employment or actively seeking a job. Monitor job applications of freeloaders and only give aid when a threshold is reached (i.e., 3 job applications per week). If any employer offers a job and the homeless individual refuses, no more taxpayer assistance. The concept of strings attached assistance may mitigate the influx of mainland homeless in the future.

        • There are anywhere from 8 to 15 that hang out in the morning at Union Mall in Downtown. There are about 20 regulars on Fort Street mall next to the McDonalds. There are at least 12 that openly deal drugs down by Maunakea market just outside of Bank of Hawaii. I am aware of at least 47 of which about 80% are mainland transplant chronics that are freeloading, panhandling, dirty and smelly. Yep, downtown is full of freeloaders.

    • The long term fix is for the individual to get some education or trade skill to land a better paying job. It is not for government to tell employers what to pay their workers except for the required minimum wage.

  • What we need is more actually affordable rental units for working low income folks, not the pseudo-affordable units popping up in Kaka’ako. Affordable should mean that the rental cost be no more than 20% of the monthly gross pay at the median income. Instead of just “free” public housing, section 8 or the free market, there should be an in-between. With the absence of rent-control, city/state sponsored affordable rentals should be pursued more actively to give people with jobs a way to pay into the system, but at an affordable cost.

    • All future low-cost housing permit must be realistic to reflect the true average low-income criteria base . The current base is set too high thus the homeless population grows aside from the free-market price for rental fees. There is actual very few if any rental units available for the fringe bottom line marginal minimum wage earner.

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