She’ll be homeless without a ‘miracle’

KAPA’A — Suzanne Pearson prays to God a miracle will occur before Jan. 28.

That is the day her U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Section 8, rental-assistance-program voucher expires, and if she can’t find another home to live in by then, she could find herself on the beach, or sleeping in her car with her 13-year-old dog.

That scenario terrifies Pearson, whose dependence on the HUD U.S. program partly stems from her suffering from fibro-myalgia, an illness that leaves her fatigue-ridden, short of breath, and forgetful.

“I am trying to be composed (about her search for a new home), and God has never failed me,” said Pearson, a member of the Kapaa Missionary Church. “I am looking for a miracle.”

Pearson said she feels lucky to have found three rental homes whose owners accepted her HUD voucher over the past three years, and she hopes she is lucky this time around, too.

Pearson’s plight is not uncommon among HUD rental-assistance-voucher holders, as more and more Kauaians in the program have had difficulty finding rental housing, or have had their vouchers expire because they haven’t found housing or aren’t motivated to find rent units in a timely manner, said Kauai County Housing Agency officials who manage the $5.9-million Section 8 budget for Kaua’i County this year.

Voucher-holders are generally unable to find units because the rents are too high, said Stuart Rosenthal, the Section 8 program manager for the Kaua’i County Housing Agency, and Gary Kodani, assistant Section 8 program manager for the county.

Another challenge is that landlords have a perception, based on the actions of a few Section 8 participants, that program participants are too messy or may damage their rental units, they said.

Another challenge is that the voucher-holders don’t aggressively pursue units, the officials said.

To date, 664 persons have been placed in housing through the program, Rosenthal said, and between 70 to 100 persons have been issued vouchers but have not used them yet.

If Pearson doesn’t find a home by Jan. 28, she will have to reapply with the HUD program, be put on a waiting list with others who qualify for the low-income program, and wait for another voucher.

If she does find a place before then, her participation in the program will continue.

Once issued vouchers, house-hunters have anywhere from 30 to 60 days to find a place. The time period has been extended, at times, to 120 days, to give voucher-holders more time to find places, they said.

The process is time-consuming, and offers no guarantee that she will be put back in housing in the near future, Pearson said.

Pearson said being in a home is all she wants. “It is a refuge, a safe place, a place of security,” she said. “That is all I want.”

She left her last HUD-supported housing unit in September last year, and, since then, has moved into a home in Kapa’a, paying $100 a month. The only shortcoming is that “I only get the use of a sofa (for sleeping),” she said.

The living arrangement has gone sour, and now she has been asked to leave.

Up until three years ago or so, Pearson never heard of HUD. Raised in Ontario, Canada, the daughter of a Canadian soldier, Pearson moved to Kaua’i 30 years ago.

By her own estimation, she has lived a full life. She worked as a hairdresser, as a waitress, and owned a gift and basket business and a cleaning business. She had friends and money.

Four years ago, her diagnosis with fibromyalgia changed her life, Pearson told The Garden Island.

Those with the illness experience debilitating symptoms, including chronic fatigue, short-term memory loss, pain in the joints, sore throat and headaches.

The illness hit her in another way that has diminished the quality of her life. “I have ‘fibro fog.’ I lose my train of thought,” she said.

Because of this condition, she is sometimes perceived to be incoherent or drunk by others.

After her diagnosis by doctors, she tried to continue working, but couldn’t.

The only salvation for her is the seven pills she takes daily. The pills, whose names she couldn’t immediately recall, help to stabilize her nerves, she said.

How she got the condition is a mystery to her, as no one in her family has ever been afflicted by it before, she said. “The doctors say it was through trauma or by birth (genetics),” Pearson said.

Doctors also told her the condition might have arisen from her exposure to the chemicals she worked with as a hairdresser and owner of a cleaning business. “Basically, they told me I was poisoned,” she said.

Her inability to work prompted her to seek out the HUD program, and over the past three years she lived in three different homes on Kaua’i, one in Kapahi and two in Wailua Houselots, through the government-rental-assistance program.

Pearson said she stayed in each home for about a year, and left the homes because the landlords increased the rents beyond what the HUD program provided her.

Currently, she is eligible for up to $919 a month, based on her income.

Section 8 voucher-holders can’t pay more than 40 percent of their adjusted gross income toward the portion of the rent they pay, Kodani said.

Pearson said she receives $550 in Supplemental Security Income each month. Her medications, which cost around $1,000 a month, are covered by a state insurance program, she said.

Pearson said she has shown she is a responsible resident, having stayed in three HUD-program-sponsored homes over the last three years.

She likes to do gardening, and likes to decorate the interiors of homes.

Pearson said she has looked constantly for a home she can call her own.

“I get the paper (The Garden Island) every day. I go driving around neighborhoods looking for homes for rent,” Pearson said.

She also has passed out fliers in front of the Kapa’a post office and Foodland in Waipouli Town Center, soliciting help.

What has helped buoy her spirits is ‘Iniki, a 13-year-old, female dog she picked up from the Kauai Humane Society.

She said she loves the island and its people.

Serving as a volunteer with the Kauai Food Bank for six years in the 1990s, she worked as an event organizer to help raise funds to feed the poor and needy of Kaua’i.

“I gave back to the community, and I am asking for help now,” Pearson said.

Pearson said landlords should give HUD-voucher-holders a break, because they are as responsible as any other renters.

That is an assessment echoed by Rosenthal and Kodani, who said only a small number of Section 8 rental-assistance-program participants have not been good tenants.

Rosenthal said 664 residents participate in the program, and that another 200 persons could be accommodated with the available rental-assistance funding allotted to Kaua’i.

“The bulk of the Section 8 renters have been good tenants. The vast majority have shown themselves to be responsible,” Kodani said. “We need to have more landlords participate in this program.”

Pearson contends County Housing Agency officials can do more to help voucher-holders like herself, who have shown they can be a credit to the program.

Kodani said those in his office carry a list of available rentals that can be accessed by voucher-holders. At the same time, he and other housing agency folks refer voucher-holders to landlords with available rental units.

At the same time, County Housing Agency officials have referred voucher-holders to representatives of agencies who can help them be placed in housing, including Kauai Economic Opportunity, Inc., whose officials offer some services to the homeless.

Officials at the nonprofit KEO, led by MaBel Fujiuchi, have been applauded by Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste for their efforts to help the homeless and poor.

“We give them the name of agencies to see if they might be of assistance,” Kodani said. “We do what we can.”

Anyone willing to help Pearson may call her cell phone at 482-1882.

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