HONOLULU — People who work but are still homeless would get help moving into rooms for rent in private homes if Hawaii lawmakers pass a bill expanding a state housing program.
A bill before the state House (HB1841) could widen Housing First, a program that aims to find permanent housing for homeless people.
Housing Committee Chairman Mark Hashem, a Democrat representing Hahaione and other parts of east Honolulu, said he would like to give Housing First the option to place homeless people in rooms and mother-in-law houses that homeowners offer for rent.
Lori Tsuhako, the administrator of the Homeless Programs Office in the state’s Department of Human Services, testified in opposition to the bill, saying homeowners might not be equipped to handle some homeless people’s mental health problems.
“The family would really need to understand the depth and the breadth of the issues that homeless person has dealt with over the years,” she told the committee. “The best housing placement for somebody’s who’s coming off the streets in that form might be single-room occupancy or a studio unit, where there’s less distraction and more ability to focus.”
Helping homeless people move into homeowners’ rental spaces is a strategy Tsuhako said she had not seen tried anywhere else.
Forty-five of every 10,000 people in Hawaii are homeless, the highest rate of any state, according to a 2012 report by the Homelessness Research Institute. The cost of living in Hawaii is among the nation’s highest.
The prospect of losing her home motivated Terry Amos, a retired nurse who lives in public housing, to testify to the committee against a separate bill (HB2577) that would allow the state’s housing authority to evict people who persistently smoke in public housing. The bill aims to keep non-smokers healthy and to save wear on the homes.
Amos, a 59-year-old resident of Punchbowl Homes in Honolulu for nearly four years, said she picked up smoking at age 42 after a knee surgery. She was bored, and a neighbor got her hooked on Newports. “It’s my right, man,” she said after the hearing. “I don’t do drugs. I don’t drink. I’m an old person with grey hair who did my stint to society. I should be able to do something not good for me.”
Even if smoking is verboten, Amos said, she would continue to smoke furtively in her apartment. She added that if she were evicted, she would be out of options. “I wouldn’t know what to do at all,” she said.
Amos has a sister in Michigan, she said, but could not imagine moving there.