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Hawaii faces deadline to accept federal housing vouchers

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Hawaii faces deadline to accept federal housing vouchers

Daniel Viernes and his 72-year-old mother Jean said they were forced into streets after their home went up in flames about a year ago.

Since the fire, Jean's health has declined —  a torn knee, broken arm and busted ribs sustained in a fall. Now mother and son are hoping to get into a home, but first, they need a free housing voucher.

"(We're) really desperate to the point that we don't know what to do. We need them badly," Viernes said. "We're regular people. We've been through tragic stuff. These vouchers will help us. It'll help a lot of other people too."

"I just need a place to heal," his mother added. "I want to live my life. You're only around so long and I'm getting there so I want to spend the rest of my life in peace."

The Viernes family currently lives at the Hale Mauliola homeless shelter on Sand Island. They are among the thousands of homeless who could benefit from emergency housing vouchers.

The state and counties are up against a Monday deadline to accept or forgo federal emergency housing vouchers — about 500 for O'ahu alone — to help get more families off the streets. 

"We really need to orchestrate this because it will require landlords. I cannot underscore that enough," said Connie Mitchell, executive director of the Institute for Human Services.

State leaders are grappling with how to administer the vouchers so they don't go to waste. Similar to low-income "Section 8" housing, manpower's a concern, so is changing emergency rules and finding enough landlords willing to participate.

"If we don't have landlords that are willing to work with us, no matter how many vouchers we get, we won't be able to house people," she added.

"We are currently reviewing HUD's new emergency voucher program and working with our partners to ensure that everyone has the capacity to comply with the federal requirements and to make sure that all due diligence is done to create a successful program that will effectively assist our homeless brothers and sisters," Hawaii Public Housing Authority Executive Director Hakim Ouansafi said in a statement.

"It's not only a piece of paper, it's a life-changing event," Viernes said. "When you get that, it's like winning the lottery. That's what it would be for us."

Viernes and his mother hope they're one of the lucky winners.

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