Homelessness is a very complex problem. There is seldom a single reason that a person, or a family, becomes homeless. A variety of problems increase a person’s risk for homelessness including unemployment, poor physical health, mental illness, disability, substance abuse, domestic violence, or lack of affordable housing. The needs of the homeless vary to the extent that the cause of their homelessness varies.
To affirm the need for, as well as to demonstrate its own commitment to, and leadership in ending homelessness, the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners established the Palm Beach County Homeless Advisory Board (HAB) in May of 2007. This Board was chartered with, among other responsibilities, the task of preparing and overseeing the implementation of the Ten-year Plan to End Homelessness in Palm Beach County. The combined efforts of the members of the Board and a multitude of service provider representatives led to the adoption by the Board of County Commissioners of this Plan in September of 2008.
Homelessness is a problem that impacts hundreds of residents of Palm Beach County on a daily basis. It presents social service demands, health care burdens and policy dilemmas. Estimating the numbers of homeless people is notoriously difficult, but a count of the homeless that was conducted in January 2013 found that 1,559 individuals are homeless in Palm Beach County at a given point in time. Past estimates indicate that there are between 600 and 4,000 homeless individuals on any given day in Palm Beach County.
Goals and Objectives
The objective of the Ten-year Plan to End Homelessness in Palm Beach County is to create a local homeless response system that will eliminate homelessness in ten years. In order to meet this objective, a comprehensive set of goals and action steps have been developed which address current gaps in services. Key among them is to “develop regionally located Homeless Resource Centers (HRC) throughout the County”.
Homeless Advisory Board Committees have been established to address the goals and action steps of the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness in Palm Beach County. The HAB Facilities Committee identified the site for the County’s first Homeless Resource Center in March 2009. The County obtained funding for and purchased the site from the City of West Palm Beach and several private owners. Extensive meetings were held with neighbors, City staff, City Commissioners and local concerned organizations leading up to this purchase. The property was renovated named for a long-time champion of ending homelessness, Senator Philip D. Lewis, and began accepting its’ first occupants in July 2012. A team of provider agencies are under contract/agreement to serve the homeless through the Center. Gulfstream Goodwill serves as the Center lead as well as the service provider for individual interim housing and rapid re-housing; Adopt-A-Family is the provider for family interim housing and rapid re-housing; The Lord’s Place provides employment services; the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County; and the County’s Homeless Outreach Teams provide community outreach, intake and assessment as well as off site interim housing.
The Lewis Center is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Staff are available to engage homeless individuals and families and begin the process to assist them in ending their homelessness. This is a voluntary program. The Center can house 60 individuals for an average of 40 days each. Additionally, short-term interim housing provides families with immediate access to shelter until they can enter a Rapid Re-housing program or voucher program. The goal is to place those who are homeless in housing, beginning with the most vulnerable.