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Family struggles to get out of homelessness

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Family struggles to get out of homelessness

Thirty-eight-year-old Chiena Ponochew and her family of four moved to Hawaii from Chuuk, Micronesia two years ago, only to find themselves living in a shelter since November, unable to make ends meet.

She and her husband Ryan both have full-time jobs and after being forced to move out of her siblings apartment at the "Towers at Kuhio Park Terrace," they still haven't been able to secure a home of their own.

Along with their children -- 13-year-old son Jaypert, and 10-year-old daughter Jenita -- seen in this picture taken last Christmas, they're part of the more than 1,200 reported homeless families on Oahu.

"We moved here to have a better life in Hawaii so I was thankful that my kids are in school, we're in work so we can try to save up money for the family or for the house when we have our own house," Ponochew said.

Ponochew says the family needs to get a stable roof over their heads. She's trying to get into affordable housing, but the facilities are full.

"I was trying to find those cheap houses we think that we can afford cause we don't want to like just move in and later on we move out because we don't afford the rent. That's why we're trying to find the cheap one so we can stay longer."

The need for affordable housing is growing in Hawaii, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Institute for Human Services chief administration officer Leina Ijacic says family homelessness on the island dropped more than 40 percent since 2015, but those numbers are expected to increase when a moratorium on evictions expire.

"Family homelessness is one of the biggest challenges for the state of Hawaii," she said. "We notice that 30 percent of all children that are homeless then go on to become homeless as adults so it's really our jobs as a community to pull together to break that cycle and end that cycle of homelessness for our keiki."

Ponochew hopes to find a home soon.

"I really wish to have my kids (have a) better life in the future."

To get there, advocates for the homeless say the key is making housing more affordable, then helping families get into those homes.

Produced in partnership with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.


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