By AARON WORMUS
Exclusive to Palms West Monthly
Posted Feb. 1, 2019
It’s an issue that every metropolitan city deals with to some degree. As the capital city of Palm Beach County – a county that is home to both the richest and poorest people in the United States – West Palm Beach struggles to address this issue.
Walk down Clematis Street on any given day and you’ll see the beautifully-renovated 300 block. You’ll see people leaving work to grab lunch at one of the many downtown restaurants. You’ll see tourists getting off the Brightline and strolling down Clematis Street to explore our downtown.
At the same time, a lady sits smoking on a corner next to her bags. She usually doesn’t bother anyone, but from time to time she’ll have an outburst that will frighten a passerby.
A soft-spoken black man, whom the city landscapers call “The Colonel,” is much younger than he looks and sleeps on the waterfront benches.
A panhandler, who may or may not be experiencing homelessness, asks you for a dollar and tells you about his trouble with MS. An older man with dreadlocks tells stories about how he represented Team USA in the Homeless World Cup, and then shakes his head with disappointment as he asks if you’ve heard of the latest downtown eatery to close.
There is a homeless group that gathers near the pavilion on the Waterfront and also at Currie Park. Sadly, there have been violent events – a stabbing, aggressive panhandling and reports of harassment. Downtown businesses, already struggling, oftentimes have to ask law enforcement to move the homeless away from their storefronts while employees walk customers to their cars.
The City of West Palm Beach’s website touts an impressive list of accomplishments regarding aiding the city’s homeless: $4.5 million budgeted for homelessness prevention efforts; a full-time homeless outreach team; the operation of two Vicker’s House locations; programs to help young people in danger of becoming homeless and much more. And yet still the issue persists. And it tugs at your heartstrings.
Why can’t a city and county as wealthy as ours do something to help these people get off the streets? What is the role of law enforcement? And what can I do as an individual who is blessed to own a home and be gainfully employed, to help those who are less fortunate?
I recently sat down with the city’s Director of Housing and Community Development, Armando Fana, to get answers.
“We have anti-loitering ordinances, but when we arrest people for these misdemeanors, they are often out of booking and back downtown before the police officers are done with the paperwork,” says Fana.
“What we need is supportive housing. Even if people have mild to intermediate mental health issues, which a lot of them do on the streets, they need a support network and we can’t just put them in an apartment,” Fana adds. “The city is working on a project called Alice Moore Apartments which will provide 36 units of supporting housing mostly for people with mental disabilities.”
Fana gave me these tips on how we can all help aid the homeless:
• Don’t give to panhandlers. The more you give the more they come into the neighborhood. The end goal has to be getting them off the streets.
• If you see illegal activities, report it to the police whether they are homeless or not. If you see something, say something. It doesn’t mean that police are going to be able to make an arrest but they will respond to the incident and at least have a discussion with the person and hopefully avoid an issue in the future.
• Donate to charities that have had success with homeless issues. Consider Gulfstream Goodwill Industries or The Lord’s Place. Also check out the Homeless Coalition of Palm Beach County’s website.
One of the things I learned from speaking to Fana is that when we walk down Clematis Street we don’t see the bigger issue. The “chronically homeless” that are on the streets are only the tip of the iceberg. The Homeless Coalition has identified 4,414 children in Palm Beach County schools who were homeless in 2018. Many families are employed and go to school but live in their cars.
The good news is that even though the problem is big, there are many people and organizations working hard to try to stay ahead of this issue. Here are some events in the next few months that will benefit homeless organizations:
The Lord’s Place Rappelling to End Homelessness
This innovative event takes place Saturday, Feb. 2, and I’m excited to be taking part in it! Participants will rappel down the front of the historic 7-story Comeau Building on Clematis Street during the GreenMarket.
All money raised goes to The Lord’s Place, a local organization that provides housing, employment and outreach for the homeless.
Please go online to rappel4tlp.com and donate to my campaign. I need your help to move up the leaderboard!
The Mayor’s Ball
The Mayor’s Ball takes place Saturday, Feb. 23 and will be the event of the month. This star-studded ball will be held at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach and benefits The Homeless Coalition.
Tickets are $300 each and may be purchased online at homelesscoalitionpbc.org.
Fiesta on Flagler
This event takes place Thursday, March 14 and is organized by the South End Neighborhood Association to benefit Family Promise.
Family Promise is an amazing organization which works with children and families with a goal to shelter and stabilize families in need. Flagler Drive in downtown West Palm Beach will close and local restaurants will serve food and drinks to the revelers. Tickets cost $75 and can be purchased online at fiesta-on-flagler.eventbrite.com.
I asked Mr. Fana if he would join me in rappelling down the Comeau Building, but he answered with the face of someone who is happy when both of his feet are on the ground. I let him off the hook after he generously donated to my campaign.
I hope you can come to cheer me on and help make a difference for our currently homeless neighbors and friends.