Lawmakers are considering a bill that would extend rental assistance to people who are at least 62.

Hawaii’s financially struggling older adults may get a new support system intended to keep them out of the homelessness crisis.

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This support, via Senate Bill 898 SD2 HD1, would expand the Hawaii Public Housing Authority’s Rent Supplement Program, which subsidizes monthly rent for poor families.

The new part of this program, said Sen. Sharon Moriwaki, would temporarily extend this funding to people who are 62 or older and are “homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless.”

For about $1.2 million a year, Moriwaki said, around 200 older adults can be kept from homelessness. 

“If a kupuna can’t afford their rent and will be evicted,” Moriwaki said, “they can receive up to $500 a month to sustain themselves in their own home.” The total support would be capped at $6,000 per year, per person.

IHS Institute of Human Services bunk beds for women located on the second floor of the facility located at 546 Kaaahi Street in Iwilei.
The Institute for Human Services testified in support of the bill, saying that 20% of the people in its homeless shelters were over the age of 62. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

In written testimony in support of this bill, the Institute for Human Services wrote that 20% of the people in homeless shelters maintained by the agency were over the age of 62. Those included people facing foreclosure in their own homes, elderly people on fixed incomes who cannot afford rising rents and those with health issues that serve as obstacles to getting housing.

Moriwaki said she is focused on the plight of older adults because most are on fixed incomes. They are prone to economic insecurity because of their dependency on payments from static sources, such as pensions, retirement savings and Social Security. 

The 2017 Hawaii Homeless Service Utilization Report found that Hawaii already has 1,386 older adults who are homeless.

“They are the most-vulnerable population,” Moriwaki said. 

Moriwaki said the concept of the bill is to help older adults who are struggling financially get back on their feet and to either sustain their current home or find better, permanent housing.

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Ultimately, the goal of the program is to get kupunas off the program, Moriwaki said. She said the program also provides counseling and therapy to help integrate participants back into society.

The bill is headed to a conference committee where lawmakers will try to hammer out differences between the House and Senate versions, beginning next week.

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