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Hawaii News

Grant helps homeless clients find housing faster

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    Waikiki Health’s Next Step Shelter received a $57,000 grant from the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii for a “Homeless to Housed” pilot program to get clients into permanent homes. Jason Espero, director of homeless services for Waikiki Health, stands in the shelter in Kakaako with a view visible of the facility’s living spaces.

Waikiki Health’s Next Step Shelter in Kakaako hopes to move 60 homeless clients out of the shelter and into market-rate apartments much faster this year after receiving a one-time grant to pay homeless people’s first month’s rent or security deposits.

“It’s a game changer in the sense that the state wants us to move people into housing quickly,” said Jason Espero, Waikiki Health’s director of homeless services. “This helps with that process.”

The $57,000 grant from the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii will eliminate sometimes weeks of waiting to hear whether Next Step clients will receive financial aid through a handful of organizations that provide first month’s rent or security deposits.

In Oahu’s tight rental market, landlords typically rent to the first qualified applicant instead of waiting up to a month to hear whether homeless clients will get financial assistance, Espero said.

“It could take a couple of days, a week, a month,” he said. “Now there’s no one-week or two-week period to send the application to another program and cross our fingers it might get approved. Now we can tell the landlord, ‘It’s guaranteed you’re going to get the money.’ Just hearing that gives them peace of mind and they might be more willing to give our client a shot at that apartment. They’re competing against everyone else.”

Even though the money from the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii did not arrive until Feb. 13, Next Step was able to leverage the chamber’s promise of funding to get a woman housed on Jan. 20, as well as a couple on Feb. 5.

The chamber’s impending grant was “definitely” the factor in getting the clients out of the shelter and into their own apartments, Espero said.

“If it wasn’t going to happen quickly, the landlord would have rented to somebody else,” Espero said.

The money from the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii is budgeted to provide up to $1,200 in one-time assistance to pay for first month’s rent or security deposits for 40 individuals and 10 couples this year.

The organization is “honored to have the opportunity to help homeless individuals and families,” said President and CEO Sherry Menor-McNamara in a statement. “We encourage accelerating solutions and developing more collaborative efforts to help address homelessness in Hawaii.”

Once the so-called Homeless to Housed funding runs out, Waikiki Health officials hope that a year’s worth of data will inspire future donors to continue the program for 2019.

The money is aimed at Next Step Shelter clients who have jobs and/or receive government assistance who could afford the monthly rent on a studio apartment, but don’t have enough money saved to also pay first month’s rent or a security deposit.

“When they don’t have enough money for first month’s rent or a security deposit, that just backs up the pipeline” of people in the shelter, Espero said.

Next Step can house as many as 135 adults at a time and 16 percent of the homeless clients typically have jobs, Espero said. About 25 percent of Next Step’s clients either have jobs or receive enough government assistance to afford an apartment or room that rents for $700 per month, he said.

“But with $700 a month, that can’t get you even a studio (apartment) in Hawaii,” Espero said. “We have to help people who are extremely poor, essentially living in poverty, find an apartment in this very expensive market.”

Next Step Shelter clients pay $60 a month to live in a small cubicle, $90 for a larger one and $120 per month for couples.

Fifty percent of Next Step’s clients have to be out of the shelter within 60 days, but other clients sometimes stay for much longer, depending on their circumstances.

“We’ve created a culture where this is housing-­focused,” Espero said. “You come in here because you want to get housed. This isn’t a place where you just seek temporary shelter to get away from the elements. You come here to improve your life.”

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