Task Force Convened by Mayor Jeri Muoio to Prevent Homelessness in WPB
WEST PALM BEACH, FLA. (July 12, 2018) – At the City of West Palm Beach Mayor-Commission workshop on July 10, 2018, Housing and Community Development Director Armando Fana presented to Mayor Jeri Muoio and members of the City Commission the findings and recommendations of the Homelessness Task Force. The task force was formed by Mayor Muoio in April to address the issue of homelessness, a complex issue affecting cities and counties across the U.S. as our nation struggles with an opioid epidemic, lack of structures and resources for mental health, and rising housing costs. The task force was comprised of 20+ representatives from local agencies and governments as well as business owners and residents. Meeting regularly for almost three months, the task force analyzed the variety and quality of services being offered to address homelessness in the City and identified any gaps in funding, staffing, and coordination between various agencies, especially in the areas of affordable housing, shelters, mental health, substance abuse and security. The main challenge posed to the Task Force was to determine where and how the City can assist in filling any gaps.
Fana shared with the Mayor and Commissioners the task force’s recommendations, which identified the need for additional resources in the areas of housing, shelter, mental health, substance abuse, and security. The recommendations include:
· The “Living Room” Concept: The creation of a drop-in center for homeless persons where they may receive on-site counseling and referrals to further resources. I.e.: temporary shelter and mental healthcare. Mr. Fana and West Palm Beach Police Chief Sarah Mooney will be visiting a similar concept in Louisville, KY to report back on the potential effectiveness and financial feasibility.
· Community Psychiatrist: A psychiatric professional would provide various on-the-street behavioral health services utilizing existing homelessness outreach teams.
Safety and Security
· Expanded Peer Homeless Outreach Team Coverage: Current Homeless Peer Outreach Teams would be expanded to include evening and weekend hours and would enhance coordination with law enforcement, hospitals and mental health facilities.
· Improved coordination between the West Palm Beach Police Department, the Office of the State Attorney in Palm Beach County, and the Office of the City Attorney to identify chronically-homeless repeat criminal offenders with numerous arrests who refuse homelessness assistance.
· FUSE (Frequent User System Engagement) and Re-Entry Housing Stabilization Pilot Funding: Build upon and fund pilot prison re-entry programs and FUSE program that help address significant barriers that lead to homelessness, such as mental and physical health challenges, criminal background and/or lack of job skills.
Housing and Shelter
· Add More Affordable Housing Units: Increase the quantity of supportive housing by providing waiting list preferences and project-based vouchers through local housing agencies.
· Staff Review of Current Land Use and Zoning Requirements: Have City staff review current land use policies with the objective of increasing flexibility when developing affordable housing in order to reduce “not in my back yard” opposition through increasing “by right” development.
· More Availability of Overnight Beds: Add additional bed capacity at the Philip P. Lewis Center or other homeless facilities.
· Maximize Leveraging of Housing Funding: Increased collaboration and coordination between the public and private sectors to leverage existing resources.
Additional recommendations include:
· City Marketing Campaign on Panhandling and Homelessness
· Continue to develop Homelessness to Work Programs
· State Lobbying to strengthen the Baker and Marchman Acts: This will allow for more and longer-term treatment options for individuals who exhibit “red flags”.
· Leverage the City’s existing resources to develop additional affordable supportive housing units.
“We are grateful for all of the hard work by the task force members and for their recommendations,” said West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio. “The City remains committed to addressing the issue of homelessness, and these recommendations will go a long way toward enhancing the efforts already undertaken by the City and our community partners with whom we work closely to address this concern. We look forward to continuing to work together with our partners, stakeholders and the community on solving the issue of homelessness.”
“Although the largest percentage of homeless in Palm Beach County comes from within the City, the City is providing the largest amount of resources towards the issue,” stated Fana. “The number of homeless in the City stems not from a lack of resources but rather from the fact that the City is the largest urban center in the County and has the services and public spaces that naturally attract the homeless, which is not unlike every urban city in the nation.”
Already, the City has invested significant resources to address homelessness. These resources offer a variety of services ranging from housing, to support services, and even homeless prevention. City efforts and programs have included:
· Donating land for development of supportive housing;
· Funding a peer homeless outreach team with a mental health component;
· Operating the Vickers House, a community center with two locations, which provides relocation assistance and many other services to the homeless;
· Funding a Housing Stabilization Program that provides temporary assistance for those who are either homeless or in danger of becoming homeless;
· Collaborating with the Homeless Coalition for the City-initiated Real Change Movement project (http://www.realchangemovementwpb.org);
· Providing funding to Vita Nova to serve youths ages 18-24 who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless;
· Working with our community partners including Lord’s Place, Gulfstream Goodwill, Adopt a Family, the Homeless Coalition of Palm Beach County, Palm Beach County Community Services, Palm Beach County Housing and Economic Sustainability, Downtown Development Authority, West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County Housing Authorities and many others to develop strategies to reduce homelessness;
· Homeward Bound, a program offering individuals who have been chronically homeless in our city the opportunity to reunite with their families back home.
· Funding and supporting the Frequent Users System Engagement (FUSE) initiative in conjunction with the Palm Beach County Criminal Justice Commission and several other partner entities.
Currently, the City is continuing to develop methods for agencies and organizations to identify which individuals are receiving homeless-related services and how to better coordinate these services. For example, the City is working on a community I.D. which will be administered by the Legal Aid Society and made available to everyone.
At the Mayor-Commission Workshop, Director Fana shared that the January “Point in Time Count” for homelessness in the downtown and Currie Park areas showed that 27% of the homelessness within the City was in the north end of the City and 9% within the City’s downtown area. The City will be conducting its own homelessness census in areas of downtown and the north end starting later this summer. The homeless counts will be conducted on a quarterly basis in order to get better idea of the scale of the issue and whether or not the implemented programs are reducing homelessness. Upon completion, the results of the findings will be posted online for public viewing.
For more information, please visit the City of West Palm Beach Housing and Community Development Department online at http://wpb.org/Departments/Housing-Community-Development/Overview.