Saturday, December 5, 2015

The plight of the homeless in Lake Worth (and the political talking points you'll be hearing soon enough)

In the lead-up to the March elections, two former Lake Worth commissioners will be rolling out their homeless campaign to help one of their 'chosen' get a seat on the City Commission. They've laid the groundwork already and sent many signals so it's really no surprise to anyone. Lake Worth is cash-strapped and struggling with failed projects like the City's Casino complex which hasn't lived up to its financial expectations and its site design leaves much to be desired. Like so much in Lake Worth created during previous administrations, it looks good at a distance.

A failed bond issue, campaigned against by former commissioners like Joann Golden, Cara Jennings, and current Commissioner McVoy ensured that infrastructure work deferred for too long would stay deferred that much longer. Our residential neighborhoods have been without adequate lighting for years (there's recent news on that front), and there are other issues as well most residents are familiar with. In other words, previous commissions have left a lot on the plate for our current and all future commissions to address. Meanwhile the ones who got in this predicament carry around their failed policies like old, tired luggage. Remember the "day labor center" that Cara Jennings was so enamored with?

They want you to believe that they, or their anointed ones, are the only ones with the answers. They point to problems such as the one below, homelessness, and use that issue as a rallying cry which also, conveniently, takes the failed Casino complex off many people's radar.

The issue of homelessness is a challenging one but it shouldn't trump any of the other challenges the City faces. Every city in Palm Beach County with homeless people has to balance the needs of residents and children, keep the parks clean, deliver services, and maintain safety in all the neighborhoods as well. That frustration is demonstrated by this City resident during public comment in September:
In a timely article by Alexandra Seltzer and Kevin D. Thompson in The Palm Beach Post's online edition is this article (in tomorrow's Sunday [12/6] print edition) and Lake Worth's city manager sums up the predicament many city's have in Palm Beach County (PBC) to help the homeless get the services they require from the county:
But cities, [Lake Worth City Manager Michael] Bornstein said, can only do so much [for the homeless].
     “We can’t even patch our streets,” he said. “We’re working on the fundamentals, now we’re supposed to fix a national issue? Just throw Iran and Iraq and China on our plate.”
An article the Post references is Matt Morgan's work in April which shows the county has made great strides to help the homeless but there's more work needed:
     Reasons for the lower number include work at the Senator Philip D. Lewis Center, reduction in housing program requirements, which lowers recidivism, and an increase in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development vouchers.
[and. . .]
     Anyone who sees a homeless person should encourage them to call the Lewis Center at 561-904-7900.
From the Post article by Seltzer and Thompson are the numbers of homeless:
     Countywide, there were more than 1,400 homeless counted in that period [PBC's biannual report], which is a 9 percent drop since 2013. [emphasis added]
[and. . .]
     However, the amount of chronically homeless people in the county increased by 35 percent and the number of homeless people who have mental illness or substance-abuse issues is about double from the previous count.
Here is another quote in the article from the Lake Worth city manager on the issue of homelessness, substance abuse, and the City's irresponsible sober home operators:
“A good number of people we see on the streets have addiction issues and they came from sober homes and they’re impacting crime and theft,” Lake Worth City Manager Michael Bornstein said.
Lake Worth Mayor Pam Triolo and Commissioner Andy Amoroso are also quoted in the article. It is clear that neither of them are playing the "ostrich head in the sand" game that others have played when on the dais. They discuss the issues straight on that many residents and business owners have experienced. I am convinced everybody is doing what they can given the constraints: following the law and finding the money. Clearly this is a multifaceted problem that extends beyond the city's borders. However, an extra $64,000 a month wouldn't hurt:
The one thread that runs through the entire article by Seltzer and Thompson is no one has the full answer from the state level down to the county level and further along to the cities affected by homelessness. People can point fingers, make a lot of noise, but the issue of sober homes is clearly a big part of the problem. Once that issue is solved many others will be as well: crime and blight being just two.

There are things happening to help Lake Worth and State Representative Lori Berman is one of those working to solve the sober home problem. State Senator Jeff Clemens and many other state legislators are doing what they can also. As more news becomes available I'll share it here with you and don't be reluctant to contact your local representative and tell them what you think about this. Lake Worth Commissioner Ryan Maier would be a good place to start.