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home In need of a home

Woman, 81, struggles to find place to live after eviction

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Posted: Wednesday, August 21, 2013 12:30 am

WAIMEA — An elderly woman struggling to find a new home said the experience has put her in the hospital.

“I am really happy that they got me in time,” said Josha Courtney, an 81-year-old artist who was evicted from her apartment in the rear of the Hanapepe Historical Building in July.

She resided there for nine years until a notice to move arrived when the owner put the building up for sale, she said.

Intent on staying, she fought the eviction and wound up in district court twice and was given an extension but ordered to vacate on July 15.  

Without responses from several housing applications, a friend took her in before authorities removed her and the household items became the property of the landlord.

That includes about 225 paintings and items collected from places she lived in Hawaii and in Japan, India, Paris, Tonga, Canary Islands, and Mexico. She has also lived in New Mexico and San Francisco.

She moved to Kauai to live in the Hanapepe artists’ village. It was here that she went on disability and decided to stay.

“I love Kauai because it’s the best of the Hawaiian islands and particularly the Westside,” she said.

Rev. Dr. Gwendolyn “Nani” Hill, pastor of Hanapepe Hawaiian Congregational Church, said that 11 parishioners came on short notice with six trucks to move Courtney’s apartment into storage. Another individual donated money for a storage unit and the facility didn’t increase the charge when they needed an larger locker.

“When you talk about God working in mysterious ways, these things have come through even when we are continually faced with challenges,” Hill said.

Henri Carnal said that a small apartment in the Kekaha public housing center was preferable for his aging friend only to “sleeping under a tree” and is not a healthy situation for either of them.

“It is also against the rules here for her to say but I cannot allow an elderly lady to be kicked out to the street,” Carnal said.

Courtney became ill from what she believes is stress.

Her condition grew worse and she was admitted to Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital about three weeks ago with low blood sugar and heart palpitations.

Her condition has stabilized and she is about to be released but is still without a home. She said it is not possible to return to Carnal’s apartment, because it would put undo pressure on the 65-year-old disabled veteran who is starting radiation treatment for cancer.

With her HUD voucher, she pays the remaining 30 percent of her rent, which is largely covered by her Social Security checks. The church put her up in a Westside bed and breakfast for a few days while trying to find a permanent location.

“I believe that there is the perfect place for me,” Courtney said. “I would like to find a place in Kekaha or the Westside.”

Courtney is a painter who has assistance with laundry and cleaning through home care. She was in good health before this episode and believes she will be self-sufficient again.

“She is pretty active and wants to live as independently as possible,” Hill said.

The process of getting Courtney moved has been difficult, with lengthy forms for every public or private housing applications. Nothing came back during the three weeks Courtney was in the hospital, Hill added.

“If you don’t have somebody to help you in the process, and you are elderly, then you are just lost and the system doesn’t treat you kindly,” she said. “It has been two months and it seems like a long time.”

They would like to find temporary housing, if necessary, until a permanent arrangement is worked out in public or private housing.

June Renaud, a program planner with the county Agency on Elderly Affairs, said they assisted Courtney for more than eight years with information and referrals to agencies. They provided assistance with applications for public benefits such as Medicaid, Social Security, Medicare and other programs and services for seniors.

“Throughout these years, we have coordinated the delivery of several in-home care services and have assisted her with applications for other public services, including housing,” Renaud said. “We negotiated with her recent landlord to extend her lease twice and he was kind enough to allow her to remain in the home.”

When it was not possible to extend the lease any longer, the agency assisted Courtney with several applications to find another home, Renaud said.

“There is a waiting list for many of the housing projects, but Ms. Courtney was prioritized due to her situation and was offered accommodations,” she said. “Unfortunately, Ms. Courtney turned down the unit and refused to move.”

Housing Agency program manager Sandy Kaauwai said Courtney was issued an active Section 8 program voucher when her previous rental unit was sold. The office lost contact with her when her phone was disconnected and she was hospitalized.

“We were informed by Elderly Affairs that she had taken ill and asked for an extension of her voucher which was granted,” Kaauwai said.

Working as a go-between for the elderly with institutions means that information from individuals and officials doesn’t always match, Hill said.

She continues to collect doctor’s signatures and details for handicap accessibility and other information to complete the applications.

“I don’t know how many others are having this difficulty,” Hill said. “There is so much red tape and it would be very difficult if no one is there to help them.”

Bruce Bottorff with AARP Hawaii, said the lack of affordable senior housing is a growing concern on all islands. From a statewide perspective, the circumstances facing Courtney may become a more common occurrence.

“It is much harder for seniors living alone to remain independent — and in the absence of supportive family structures more seniors tend to rely on public assistance,” Bottorff said. “Even when such support is available, family caregivers are under increasing pressure to meet the needs of aging loved ones due to their own work and child-rearing responsibilities.”

The best first step is to contact the Kauai Office of Elderly Affairs for placement assistance.

“They’re in the best position to put her in touch with other agencies and resources that might help,” Bottorff said.

Benjamin Park, a planner with the Hawaii Public Housing Authority in Honolulu, said the federal housing inventory properties on Kauai total 317 units with 306 filled for a 96.52 percent occupancy ratio. The state housing inventory on Kauai totals 26 units with 24 filled for a 92.31 percent occupancy ratio.

“There are no Section 8 vouchers that the HPHA administers on Kauai,” Park said. “However, HUD will give HPHA the voucher and then the HPHA will give the Section 8 voucher to the Kauai County Housing Agency, and then they administer the program.”

There are also six Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers on Kauai, Park added.

• Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0424 or by emailing tlaventure@thegardenisland.com.

© 2015 Thegardenisland.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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