Search for landlords to house homeless people in Oahu is launched

Millions of dollars in new housing vouchers become available in Oahu as a statewide ban on COVID-19-related evictions is expected to end in August, raising fears that a new generation of families is about to become homeless.

So a group of government officials and nonprofits are scrambling to convince more homeowners like Jonette Callo to take advantage of new federal funding to house people who are already homeless on Oahu and those who will soon become homeless.

A new program called Oahu Housing Now began placing homeless clients in market-priced rental housing in April using nearly $ 11 million in new federal COVID-19 funds.

The program works similarly to existing state and county Housing First programs. Landlords are guaranteed to pay rent and utilities for the duration of the lease, repairs for damage, and access to case managers for any issues with clients.

Landlords who might need even more convincing to house Oahu Housing Now clients could potentially receive 13 months rent for a one-year lease, said Laura Thielen, executive director of Partners in Care, who oversees Oahu Housing Now.

But while Housing First is designed for Hawaii’s most chronically and severely homeless, including those with mental health and addiction issues, Oahu Housing Now targets homeless clients “who may be working. and newly homeless, ”said Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator. “This program targets this layer below, new homeless people who might be working to find a job.”

Morishige and others are simultaneously trying to find market-priced housing for Oahu Housing Now clients, those who are eligible for Section 8 vouchers and quick relocation funds through the Institute for Homeless Services to provide tenants a single rental or utility. funds to keep them housed or to put them back in housing before they spend too much time homeless.

As of April alone, Oahu Housing Now has found homes for 74 households with 181 people. The goal is to house more than 300 households by September 1.

So far, 33 of the families have minor children; and 33% of guests are native Hawaii and 29% are Pacific Islanders.

Many have been released from homeless shelters or homeless settlements, Morishige said.

While Oahu Housing Now has seen early success, Morishige and Thielen know it’s a big demand to get landlords to take in homeless people – especially after not paying rent since the COVID-19 pandemic. led Governor David Ige in April 2020 to issue a moratorium on evictions for non-payment. As the economy continues to improve and the number of vaccinations increases, Ige plans to lift the ban in August.

“We have to recognize that homeowners are struggling too,” Thielen said. “It’s a partnership. We are as invested in owners as we are in customers.

Oahu’s rental housing market is so tight that the IHS Housing team constantly scours the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and rental listings online for new leads and regularly searches for rental signs while driving. around the island, said IHS spokeswoman Jill Wright.

“We are always trying to build our unit inventory and reach as many new owners as possible,” Wright said in an email. “Right now, we estimate that we need at least 30 additional owners to meet just the demand of our current customers. “

Callo learned all the financial benefits from Oahu Housing Now, but was tricked into renting her family’s newly renovated studio in the Punahou area on May 28 to a 60-year-old homeless man for a different reason.

She didn’t even mention payment guarantees to the Star Advertiser as a motivation.

“If I can help someone, then why not? Said Callo. “Obviously we have a homeless problem here, and it has worsened. “

Callo went to the IHS Women’s Shelter in Iwilei with her 14-year-old daughter, Madison, to help serve food. She and her husband Greg also joined their first Presbyterian church in Koolau to distribute Christmas presents to the homeless.

But Callo wanted to show his daughter a greater commitment by renting their studio to Fred Long, 60, giving Long his first home in six years.

“We told him we were opening our unit to a man who was homeless and living in a shelter,” Callo said. “She thought it was awesome. We are lucky. And if we can be a blessing to others, that’s what we want to do.

Long told the Star-Advertiser that he understands that he’s been given an opportunity he doesn’t want to waste. He has lived at the IHS Men’s Shelter, the city’s Interim Outdoor Screening and Triage Center at Keehi Lagoon Park and most recently the Next Step Shelter, where he was asked last month if he wanted to participate in Oahu. Housing Now.

“I have to get my game in order,” Long said. “Finding a job is the top priority. I have to find a job.

Chersy Ponochew, 40, and her three boys – ages 4, 7 and 9 – also moved into their first home in over three years last month.

She works as a teacher’s assistant at Parents and Children Together, but struggles to pay her rent.

She tried to live for a few years with her sister’s family in social housing in Kuhio Park Terrace, but the two-bedroom apartment was packed with eight people and two families.

Ponochew also tried living with her cousin’s family and in a van in Kalihi for a few months before ending up at the IHS Women’s Shelter.

So she’s grateful that her new owner Nuuanu took a chance by renting her out to her and her boys through Oahu Home Now.

“It’s really important,” Ponochew said. “It’s for my kids.


For more information on how to own Oahu Housing Now:

>> E-mail: LEP @ partners

>> Call: 336-7672

>> Website:

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