Homeless on Kauai: Affordable housing major obstacle

Homeless on Kauai: Affordable housing major obstacle

LIHUE, KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Much like the rest of the state, homeless service providers on Kaua'i say their biggest obstacle is transitioning folks out of shelter space and into affordable, permanent housing.

Officials say subsidized housing, in many cases, is still too expensive for the working class to afford -- leaving little hope for homeless to get off the streets, which is why so many of them end up in beach parks like Salt Pond. Experts say the west side beach is one of the most populated areas for homeless on the island, but for the most part -- there isn't the kind of visibility about homelessness on Kaua'i as there is on O'ahu.

"Homelessness is more of, in my opinion, a hidden issue on Kaua'i and not nearly on the forefront," said Wayne Law, Mental Health Kokua of Kaua'i's Program Service Manager. 

Officials say there are homeless scattered across the island, but few large encampments.  The most recent point-in-time count indicates there are around 456 homeless on Kaua'i and only about 78 are sheltered.

"Last month, in May, we had approximately 33 new intakes of new homeless we've never seen before," described Stephanie Fernandes, the Homeless and Housing Programs Director for Kaua'i Economic Opportunity, which runs Kaua'i's only homeless shelter.  Mana 'Olana opened in 2007, but with only 19 beds to serve men, women and families, it's almost always at capacity.

"Cumulatively over the year, we can serve over 200 homeless people and families," said Fernandes.  "What would make the biggest difference would be finding apartments that would affordable for the homeless to move into."

But like every other island, officials say affordable housing demand far outnumbers supply.  

"It's a challenge for everybody. It's a challenge for workforce level individuals and it's even worse if you're homeless. Where can you go? There are long waiting lists for subsidized housing in most cases," explained Debra DeLuis, the Kaua'i Community Alliance Chair and Community Director for Catholic Charities Kaua'i. 

Carl Goularte has a HUD voucher worth $998 a month, but says most Section 8 approved rentals start around $1200, which is why he's in line for the shelter everyday instead of in his own place.

"The HUD vouchers went down and property value went up, so that's why everything's jumbled right now.  I'm lucky to have a voucher, but I have what -- a month and a half left -- and if I don't find a place, it's canceled out and so I don't know," described Goularte. 

Officials say it's a consistent problem that needs to be addressed in order to end homelessness in this community.

"The vouchers value are evaluated and adjusted annually. For some of us, it's difficult to understand how they come to some of the figures
that they come to, but the bottom line is -- it's a huge challenge to get a person housed even with a voucher," said Law. 

Homeless service providers say one solution -- Housing First -- has proven successful nationally through federal grants that off-set costs.  Under the program, homeless are provided with housing as quickly as possible and then case management helps them work toward self-sufficiency by offering support services that address gaps in their job skills, mental health needs or addictions.  It is being implemented on O'ahu through a federal initiative, but there is no funding for the neighbor islands at this time. 

"I think one of the things about Kaua'i -- there's a lot of pride in having never been conquered and I think that's justified.  So we need to rally more support because we don't want poverty and homelessness to conquer this amazing place," said DeLuis. 

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