Next Lunch and Learn on Sept. 27 Tackles Homelessness in Palm Beach County

Leon Fooksman
August 29, 2016

1,421 – that’s how many individuals and families are homeless on any given day in Palm Beach County.


The homeless are all around us… like the young mom who sits with her baby in a 24-hour Wal-Mart bathroom stall at night hoping to stay safe and not be discovered… or the mom and dad who sleep in their car and who had to place their three children with three different family members and friends.


The root causes of homelessness are a lack of affordable housing and unemployment.


There’s a lot that the Leadership community can do to fight local homelessness. Join us on September 27 for our next Lunch and Learn focused on homelessness in Palm Beach County. Register here.


Marilyn L. Muñoz, executive director of Homeless Coalition in Palm Beach County, explains below the homeless situation and what can be done to address it.


Describe the homeless situation in Palm Beach County.


Marilyn L. Muñoz: In Palm Beach County, we have a housing crisis for those experiencing homelessness as well as people who are unable to afford market rents.  Currently, over 600 individuals and 100 families who have asked for help to end their homelessness and have gone through the assessment process, are waiting for housing assistance. Those numbers do not include the individuals and families who are still living on the streets.


According to the 2015 Point-in-Time Count, there are 1,421 individuals and families homeless on any given day in Palm Beach County. This count is conducted by Palm Beach County over a 24-hour period across many locations and is used as the official number by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Point-In-Time Count found a 9% reduction in homelessness since 2013. The number of unsheltered families dropped 53% and there were 7% fewer homeless veterans.  However, the number of chronically homeless individuals increased by 35% and the number of people reporting a severe mental illness or substance abuse nearly doubled.


While the Point-In-Time Count is the official method of recording homelessness in our community, it does not paint a complete picture of the situation in Palm Beach County.  The Palm Beach County School District identified 3,702 students as homeless during the 2015-2016 school year.  Families often don’t come forward to be counted out of fear of having their children removed and disabled individuals may avoid the survey out of fear of being hospitalized.


While we have many organizations and programs that work very hard each and every day with the homeless population, the need far exceeds the resources available in Palm Beach County. Providing immediate help to families and individuals in need is a challenge we are all trying to meet.


What do you want people to know and understand about homelessness?


Marilyn L. Muñoz: Those who are experiencing homelessness are human beings.


Homelessness is a complex issue, with no single cause or cure.  In Palm Beach County, the top two causes of homelessness are the lack of affordable housing and unemployment. Homelessness can happen to anyone. An unexpected hospital stay and illness, divorce, domestic violence, evictions, job joss – are just some examples of what can happen to you to cause you to become homeless.


People who are experiencing homelessness typically are invisible.  It is the young mother who sits with her baby in a 24-hr Wal-Mart bathroom stall at night hoping to stay safe and not be discovered.


It’s the mom and dad who are sleeping in their car and who had to place their 3 children with three different family members and friends so everyone would be safe and have a place to sleep that night.


Is it someone in your office who wasn’t able to find low-income affordable housing when his lease was up and is now living at a homeless shelter and hoping that no one finds out.


It the student going to college classes during the day, working in the evening and sleeping in her car or in the woods at night.


The person your child goes to school with, the person you sit next to in church, see in the grocery store or see sitting in their car in a parking lot could all be homeless. The elderly, the person exiting prison, the disabled, the person at your job who just got laid off, those who have mental health issues or addictions and those in a never ending cycle of poverty could all be the people you see who are homeless.


What’s being done to reduce homelessness in Palm Beach County?


Marilyn L. Muñoz: Palm Beach County adopted a Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness in 2008. The Plan outlined seven goals including developing a universal, well-coordinated system to assess and provide housing options and services for individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness.


The central point of entry for anyone who is experiencing homelessness in our community is the Senator Philip D. Lewis Center, the first homeless resource center in Palm Beach County.  It can be accessed by calling (561) 904-7900. Coordinated Intake and Assessment callers are navigated to the appropriate programs using the Housing First model.


The Senator Philip D. Lewis Center opened in 2012 and has served over 28,000 men, women and children. The Lewis Center is a partnership of homeless service providers; Gulfstream Goodwill, Adopt-A-Family, Health Care District, The Lord’s Place, and the Homeless Coalition, who help families and individuals who are experiencing homelessness get connected with supportive services, resources and housing to restore them to self-sufficiency.


There many more components to help reduce homelessness such as: outreach programs, a client tracking program (HMIS), supportive services and prevention strategies.


The main obstacle to getting a person back on their feet is the lack of housing. Palm Beach County just launched the SMART Landlord Campaign to recruit landlords who can provide housing for extremely low-income individuals and families. Much more help is needed.  We can end homelessness with homes.


What can the Leadership community do to address this issue?


Marilyn L. Muñoz: Palm Beach County is in a housing crisis.


More than 150,000 Palm Beach County residents are considered cost burdened, spending more than 30% of their income on housing. For many others housing exceeds 50% of their income. The average two-bedroom apartment rents for $1,240, a one-bedroom apartment rents for $991, if you consider that 42% of Palm Beach County residents make less than $32,650 a year, you recognize that a significant number of people are priced out of the current real estate market.


There are hundreds of individuals and families who are eligible for housing assistance, but cannot be placed due to a lack of available affordable apartments in Palm Beach County.


What can the Leadership community do?


We need your help to find landlords who will rent their properties.

We need your help to build communities where working people can afford to live.

We need your help to support the efforts of the homeless service providers in our community.


Donate your time, treasure and talent.


Be sure to attend the September 27 Lunch and Learn focused on homelessness in Palm Beach County. Register here.


Here’s information about The Homeless Coalition (HC). The organization has been the voice of the homeless since 1986 providing advocacy, education and outreach as a nonprofit. It is a unique organization in that its sole purpose is to advocate, educate and provide funding to end homelessness in Palm Beach County.  


Strategically, the HC has positioned itself as a collaborative partner. The HC seeks to identify and develop partnerships with a wide range of public, private and nonprofit entities to create a unified voice and act through decision-making processes that are inclusive of all parties. It raises funds to support its programs and those of its partner agencies that provide housing and supportive services.