The following is a letter sent to Big Island Gazette (BIG). BIG does not edit letters to the editor.
Every day I witness discrimination against people working to overcome homelessness in my job at Hope Services, a nonprofit homeless services agency serving Hawaii Island. The US is one of the few developed countries that allows landlords to discriminate against renters based on their use of housing subsidies, but Hawaii Senate Bill 36 would make this discrimination illegal.
As a Black man from the state of Kentucky, I have experienced housing discrimination first hand. The vouchers that the population of people we work with receive are meant to give them a chance to live a better life, starting with a better home. Although we work with several landlords who are happy with their tenants, these vouchers and this population are often discriminated against. The homeless population is not being allowed to even apply for certain homes, because many of the advertisements state that no Hope Services individuals or families, and no one with Section 8 can apply.
Hope Services Hawaii is an organization that helps take people experiencing homelessness off the streets and puts them in affordable housing. Section 8 vouchers usually serve those with lower incomes–many of whom work more than 40 hours a week but still cannot afford to pay the rent.
For the owners of any rentals to be able to arbitrarily dismiss this population of people is wrong, and should not be allowed to stand. It is akin to being turned away because of the color of your skin. Some things are beyond a person’s control, and should not be held against them.
This bill has already passed through the Senate and one House committee, but in order to survive, it needs the green light from Hamakua/Hilo Representative Mark Nakashima, who can re-refer the bill in order to make sure it gets heard. I have contacted Rep. Nakashima’s office and I urge all other Hawaii Island residents committed to ending discrimination to do the same.