Tuesday, May 21

Demand for helping homeless in Palm Beach County reaches crisis

The demand for helping the homeless in Palm Beach County has reached a crisis, according to the county, which provides resources for the homeless, including a place to temporarily live.

Kym Cope is thankful for her small room with a bed. There’s just enough room for her wheelchair. She was homeless until last December.

“Was not ready for the place I was living in to go up for sale and sell in 30 days. Didn’t have first, last, or security and I wasn’t working at that time, so I had no more money,” Cope said.

Just like that, she had no place to live.

“When I started looking for a place, they were priced out from what you were currently paying or what you paid five or 10 years ago,” Cope said.

She said she would walk the streets. She couldn’t elevate her legs long enough to rest, and she ended up in the hospital and in a wheelchair.

“Not being able to do that for months caused me to go in the hospital with an issue with my leg being so swollen, because I was constantly on my feet and constantly moving. If you are out there and you are by yourself, you need to be very aware of your surroundings,” Cope said.

She reached out to several agencies for assistance and got help from the Central County Housing Resource Center. Individuals can stay up to 90 days.

“Just being able to go on to the computer, to be able to look for work, to look for additional assistance,” Cope said.

Dr. James Green, the Palm Beach County Community Services Department director, said there’s a waiting list to stay at one of four temporary shelters.

“It fluctuates, it moves, between 600 and 700 individuals on our waitlist. It’s tremendous,” Green said. “We try to keep our families together as much as possible. And we work closely with the Department of Children and Families, we work closely with the Housing Authority, try to prioritize families who are homeless and make sure that they can move into permanent housing.”

The shelter is operated by Gulfstream Goodwill.

“The directors of the shelters all the way to the case managers,” said Erin Kozlowski, the chief development officer for Gulfstream Goodwill.

She said they offer programs to help individuals become independent.

“We have job training and focus is first career counseling. Then we move them into work readiness training, and from there we try to finish it up with financial literacy training. Equipping individuals to avoid homelessness again,” Kozlowski said.

Dr. Green said there are challenges.

“Funding is one of the challenges that we face. We need more funding that provide subsidies for individuals that we house. But affordable housing, housing that individuals can afford to live in is a huge, huge barrier,” Green said.

He said there’s the SMART landlord campaign.

“So we want to make sure that our property owners are out there that have rooms, that can rent to individuals moving out of the shelters, that they are engaged in this process,” Green said.

A process Kym knows will take time, but she sees progress in her journey.

“It took a long time to get here, but I’m glad I’m here. Moving forward, it may be slower than you would like it. But you are moving forward,” Cope said.

There are four homeless shelters: Lake Worth, which is for individuals, and the Lewis Center on 45th Street in West Palm Beach is also for individuals. There’s one in Pahokee that is for families. And then the one in Belle Glade is a transitional location used to access what the individual needs.

For more information, call is 1-833-442-9455.

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