While shining a light on the need to provide a safety net for at-risk renters, Sterling Higa’s recent column (“Prevent Homelessness By Helping At-Risk Renters”) falls short in acknowledging Hawaii nonprofits already providing innovative and highly successful solutions to this problem.

Some solutions are intended to assist those experiencing homelessness into permanent housing, other solutions are preventive in nature by keeping those at-risk of becoming homeless in their homes. It costs less to prevent a person or family from falling into homelessness.

It’s easier to perpetuate the narrative that homelessness is a never-ending battle or that government, financial institutions, and providers are not doing enough. Yet, we also need to shine a light on the current solutions that exist and continue building on them.

Here are some of the organizations and current solutions that exist in our community:

Family Promise Of Hawaii

Family Promise of Hawaii is a social service agency helping homeless and low-income families in Hawaii and has a 95% retention rate for families it places or keeps in rental units.

In 2018, they partnered with American Savings Bank and a nonprofit called Help Us Move In to pilot a rental assistance fund. ASB and HUMI match private donations to Family Promise of Hawaii.

A screen shot from the website of Hawaii Catholic Charities. It is one of many nonprofits working to help at-risk renters. 

Families who receive prevention support from them have access to more than financial assistance. They receive case management, financial literacy education, and on-going support.

To date, the fund has supported 27 families including 60 children with an average cost of only $416 per child. Imagine the impact this fund will have in the future as it grows?

Family Promise of Hawaii also receives government prevention assistance through the Emergency Solutions Grant. In 2019, ESG funds helped 19 families remain in housing, preventing their need for homeless services. They include a single mother of two who remains in housing today, thanks to the combination of rental assistance and ongoing support.

Catholic Charities Hawaii

Catholic Charities Hawaii has been a social service agency serving the people of Hawaii since 1947. CCH has 43 programs that serve people in the community with the highest need.

In 1999, CCH saw a need in the community as thousands of callers and walk-ins were requesting assistance mostly related to housing (rent, security deposit, utility costs). CCH responded and created the Help Line (521-4357). Today, the Help Line helps feed into a handful of different financial assistance programs from government and private funders.

We need to shine a light on the current solutions that exist and build on them.

CCH is also the statewide contractor for the Statewide Homeless Emergency Grants Program, one of a handful of programs that have prevention services. This program is funded through the Department of Human Services’ Homeless Programs Office. SHEG has two service pieces and provides financial assistance to the homeless and those at-risk for homelessness. Seventy percent of program funding goes towards prevention.

For the current fiscal year, SHEG served 176 households (248 adults and 158 children) and prevented them from entering the homeless system.

The average cost per household is $514.98.

The programs are collaborations between funders and other agencies to help identify gaps and trends in the community.

Hawaii Community Lending

Hawaii Community Lending is a nonprofit community loan fund that launched the Hawaii Emergency Loan Program with its partner, Hawaiian Community Assets, in July 2018. HELP is a revolving loan fund that provides affordable emergency loans and free financial education to individuals and families experiencing or at-risk of homelessness.

The program has pooled grants from Aloha United Way, Hawaii Community Foundation, and public agencies to issue more than 100 emergency loans that have assisted 314 children and parents to stay in homes.

The average loan amount is $4,250. When loans are paid back, the loan money is lent again to the next individual or family in need and loan interest is used to pay for HCL staff and operations.

Providers, funders, government agencies, and financial institutions are already working together to create a safety net for those experiencing crisis in our community.

Innovation and collaboration are happening. What is essential in our long-term success is the continued funding to support and expand on these solutions; and more partners willing to work alongside those already implementing high-impact programming.

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