Federal COVID aid is helping to get nearly 1,000 homeless people on Oahu into housing

Updated: May. 10, 2021 at 5:28 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - COVID has been the root of a lot of misery over the past year, but those who work with the homeless say there’s been an unexpected silver lining. There’s finally money enough to make a dent in the crisis.

New funds from the federal CARES Act are being used to get 300 homeless families out of shelters or off the streets and into places of their own.

It’s a program that wouldn’t have been possible without federal pandemic aid.

Nenson Nenio is one of those getting help. He has had to cope with more than his share of obstacles.

Two years ago, he was diagnosed with brain cancer, which eventually claimed his vision. The 41-year-old ended up homeless.

While that kind of hardship would break most people, Nenio got himself into at a shelter and is taking steps to get back on his feet.

“I want to work.” he said.

It’s that ambition that’s helped him qualify for the Oahu Housing Now Project.

“We’re really looking for folks who are capable of either increasing their income by returning to work. Or improving their income by getting special training,” said Laura Thielen, executive director of Partners in Care.

The goal is to house 300 households, totaling close to 1,000 people by September.

Many of the folks who qualify for this round of financial aid already have some income but not enough to afford a place to stay.

Thielen said, “These are the folks who really do fall through the cracks.”

Each household is given a voucher that covers rent for 12 months and a case worker who’s responsible for making sure when the year is up they’re self-sustainable.

The program also offers support for the landlord.

Housing fairs have been underway at homeless shelters across Oahu.

Nenio found out he was approved for a voucher last week. He told his case manager he would like to live in Kalihi “and be on a bus line or have access to the Handi-van.”

Thielen says he’s expected to move out of the shelter and into his own place in the next couple of weeks.

“I really feel good. I want (to thank) Jesus,” he said. “And I want to thank (everyone) for helping me.”

In the meantime, Nenio is currently looking for a job. He says he has experience doing things like stocking shelves and working as a dishwasher.

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