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West Palm mayor says homeless number dropped 14 percent last year


West Palm Beach Mayor Muoio says many agencies are working together to combat homelessness

About 1:20 a.m. Wednesday, while patrons dined and drank at popular Rocco’s Tacos on Clematis Street, a man grabbed a heavy glass candle off a sidewalk table and hurled it inside at the bar, shattering $921 worth of liquor bottles.

No one was hurt and staffers held the man until police came. While police tried to handcuff him, he lunged for another glass candle. Chad Sanjay Bailey, 23, who police said was homeless, was charged with throwing a deadly missile and resisting arrest without violence.

It’s the kind of incident that has had downtown merchants and residents complaining to city hall for years — about vagrants hassling customers for food or money, sleeping in store entries, committing petty crimes, or just looking unsightly.

Almost exactly 12 hours later but without mentioning the incident, Mayor Jeri Muoio held a press conference in the city hall courtyard to laud the efforts the city has made in its battle against homelessness.

Surrounded by officials of The Lord’s Place, Vickers House, Homeless Coalition of Palm Beach County and other agencies, nonprofit programs and city and county departments, she said the number of homeless living on the streets of West Palm Beach went down 14 percent in 2017, to 426 from 498. The latest figure includes 53 senior citizens.

Last year the city found homes for 39 people in need, she said. In the past two weeks, “four individuals living in this courtyard” moved into homes supplied by the city, where they pay “some rent” while working with nonprofit The Lord’s Place to transition into stable lifestyles, Muoio said.

The city, teamed with multiple agencies, has had a role in improving the quality of life “for all residents,” she said.

Among the programs brought to bear against homelessness are training and referral services through Vickers house, with job training, counseling and health services; a Housing Stabilization Program that provides people who are facing evictions or homelessness one-time money for rent, security deposits or utility deposits; and the Homeless Bound program, which provides one-way tickets to hometowns of people who have families to whom they can return. The city also supports nonprofits that provide supportive housing for the elderly and disabled.

Through the Real Change Movement, the city and Homeless Coalition urge people to drop coins in special parking meters rather than giving to panhandlers, and the collected money contributes to permanent housing for the homeless.

“It’s a national problem,” said Armando Fana, director of the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development. In West Palm, he added, the focus is not just on homeless people you might see on the street but on families and children, who might be living in cars or “couch surfing” with someone else.

City spokeswoman Kathleen Walter said the timing of the press conference was not a response to the Rocco’s Tacos incident. The mayor has wanted to get the word out about good things being done to help the homeless, Walter said.

Muoio often hears the city isn’t doing enough to move homeless people out of shopping areas like Clematis Street. “It isn’t illegal to be homeless,” she said.

“We have been working and will continue to work to help those who need our help transition to a more productive life off the streets,” Muoio said. “We in West Palm Beach are working diligently on this.”

Staff Writer Olivia Hitchcock contributed to this story.

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