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“I’m a single mother of two young children and am desperately in need of a place to stay. I can do $450 for rent. Please help us I can’t be homeless with my two kids.”
“We have no bad habits. Please help us.”
“In need of food fell into hard times and really need help.. anything helps we are looking for a tent and pop up tent because we are homeless and need shelter if anyone can help it would be such a blessing.”
On any given day, Craigslist serves as a misery index of people searching for an affordable rental in Hawaii.
Many of the more than 400 listings in the “housing wanted” section reflect typical efforts to find a roommate or a place to live. But many others are desperate, posted by Hawaii residents afraid of becoming another statistic in the state’s ongoing homelessness crisis.
The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Honolulu is $2,100 according to the national real estate website Apartment List. More than half of all renters in Hawaii are considered “cost-burdened,” which means they spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent. Buying a house for many is impossible — the median price of a home reached nearly $800,000 in June.
The high cost of housing forces people to move away or crowd in with relatives. Those who choose to stay but don’t have family to live with are forced to compete in the rental market, where there is limited subsidized housing and no rent control on market housing.
With such a high demand and limited supply of affordable rentals, it’s no wonder that people turn to Craigslist as a last resort.
One posting described a family of seven on Maui who could only afford $2,100 per month. They couldn’t find anyplace within that range due to limits on how many people can live in a unit.
“Anyone anything. I don’t want to beg but this is where we are,” the ad said. “Weeks away from being on the streets. Please anyone. Help us out. Word of mouth. Church. Anything. Please.”
Another family consisting of a working father and a stay-at-home mother with a toddler asked for a place that’s less than $900 per month.
“Hard working and need just a chance. As of June 1st we will be homeless. Spent over $200 on rental apps just to be denied for lack of credit. Mom is stay at home and Dad works 6 nights a week.”
Desperation is what drove Jill KenKnight to post her ad. KenKnight, age 70, has been living on Maui for 37 years. For the past three years she’s been living in a house in Kula paying $1,000 per month plus three hours of yard work. But two months ago, her landlord said that she planned to double the rent in December.
“I didn’t even know that you can legally double rent on people,” KenKnight said. “This is how people become homeless who have worked all their lives.”
KenKnight used to manage restaurants, sell art, and even owned her own business that went under during the recent recession. She doesn’t have enough money to ever retire on Maui but still feels lucky because she’s healthy enough to work. Reached by phone this month, KenKnight was in the midst of one of three nine-hour shifts she works at a clothing and souvenir store, on top of relying on her Social Security checks.
“And all of a sudden there is no housing for people my age who are not working 40 hours per week,” she said, adding that she’ll be turning 71 next month. A divorcée, she doesn’t have family on Maui.
She’s on multiple wait lists for subsidized senior housing but was told that it could take five to six years for her name to be called.
She goes to apply for housing and sees the same 30 or 40 people who are looking for a place that’s less than $1,000 per month.
“I am totally packed up, I have no place to go, and she’s already found another tenant,” she said, referring to her landlord.
It’s not clear whether anyone is paying attention to people like KenKnight who are looking for help.
Service providers have for years used Craigslist to find landlords who are willing to rent rooms to people in need. But Scott Morishige, the state’s coordinator on homelessness, says that he’s never checked the “housing wanted” ads.
Nor has Anna Streegan Stone from the Salvation Army, who runs a program that provides vouchers to people who need help getting back on their feet. Stone says her organization is already overwhelmed by “a constant flow of phone calls and 211 referrals as well as just people coming in and saying, ‘We need help.’”
So far, the only call KenKnight has received in response to her ad was from a man with a Georgia area code who asked her to send him money before he gave her the keys.
Elisza Hee had better luck with her posting. The native of Hauula became homeless after not being able to keep up with her $1,700-per-month rent. For two years, she lived on and off the streets.
“I’m a struggling single mother living in my car and was abandoned in this situation and we really need help getting out of it,” she wrote in her Craigslist posting about a month ago. “I usually wouldn’t put my problems out there but I really have nowhere or no one to turn to.”
But Hee said she didn’t feel comfortable accepting a room from the two men who offered to take her in. The 32-year-old, who has a 4-year-old child and is pregnant with another, said she worried about her family’s safety with male strangers.
Reached by phone on Wednesday, Hee says she’s in a much better place now and is living at a homeless shelter and trying to get back on her feet. She found the shelter through a Google search, not in response to her ad.
Hee says she’d advise other people who find themselves similarly desperate to be persistent.
“Never give up,” she said. “It was very hard trying to get from where I was to where I am now, especially being a single mom, having no help, having no family and support.”