Homeless resource agencies work with landlord and tenant

Confronting Homelessness

At a recent Homeless Alliance meeting, an agency shared how, since last March, it has placed over 200 people into homes, 11 of which were from the Kahului industrial area. Some of these people had been living on the street for 15 years! It is so encouraging to see how well Housing First is working.

Studies show that we are making remarkable progress housing the chronically homeless. On Oahu, the number of people living in homelessness has declined by 14 percent and Maui has seen a 20 percent decrease. Awesome results, but it is important to remember that ending homelessness is an undertaking that will take our entire community. For this movement to continue, more property owners and managers need to be a part of the solution. Until we see more affordable houses and rentals built, we need to continue to work with the housing we currently have.

A friend recently asked me: “Why would anyone rent to the homeless? What is going to keep them from trashing the place and how do you know they will pay the rent, let alone pay it on time?”

Good questions, definitely worth talking about. A wise person said that all landlords have two things they want: First, for the rent to be paid on time, and second, that their property be taken care of. Both are reasonable expectations. However, as someone who has been a landlord, I can tell you that it’s not just the homeless that are the problem. There is no guarantee no matter whom you rent to; anyone can damage your home or be late on the rent.

Several years ago, we had a small one-bedroom cottage that we rented to Jim (not his real name). Jim was well known in the community and had good references. One day. Jim’s health began to fail and his illness caused him to fall into a deep depression. Because of this depression, he started making plans to commit suicide. His first attempt was unsuccessful and after a couple days in the hospital he returned home to our little cottage.

When he arrived, I was there to greet him. He then told me that he didn’t want to live any longer and that he was going to try to kill himself a second time. Concerned, I called his doctor and his girlfriend so they could get him the help he needed.

They did not take my concerns seriously and thought that I was just trying to get him moved out of our property. It was not long before Jim decided that the best way to die was to start a fire in our little cottage. His suicide attempt failed again and he received severe brain damage from smoke inhalation. Our little one-bedroom house was a disaster.

Working with a homeless resource agency such as Family Life Center, Ka Hale A Ke Ola or Catholic Charities can support both the landlord and the tenant in the rental process. They have a vested interest in making every move a success and will deal directly with the tenant in the property owner’s behalf.

These agencies assign case managers to every renter. They work diligently to assure that the rent is paid on time and they visit the tenants often to check if the property is being taken care of. One agency actually pays the landlords directly to assure on-time rent payment and takes on the responsibility of collecting from the tenants.

An official with Maui Catholic Charities shared how one property owner reached out to her about late rent payments. She was able to work out a perfect solution that was good for the landlord and good for the tenant — a solution that would not have occurred if it were not for her case management.

I cannot help but wonder what would have happened to Jim and to our cottage if we had a case manager those many years ago.

* Joyce Kawakami is a full-time volunteer, founder and CEO of Feed My Sheep Inc. As an active member of the Maui Homeless Alliance, she chairs the Awareness Committee. The alliance meets on the third Wednesday of each month at Maui Economic Opportunity Inc., 99 Mahalani St. in Wailuku. Call (808) 242-4900 for information.