at The Caring Kitchen in Delray Beach.
Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Jane Smith
One woman at The Caring Kitchen said she was to blame for her homelessness.
A man there blamed his stint in prison for his not finding a job and living on the streets.
Others complained they lost their jobs when people were willing to work for less.
Their stories were among the more than 1,700 collected in a 24-hour period ending Jan. 27.
The homeless count, mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was coordinated by Palm Beach County’s Human Services Division. Its staff got help from volunteers and police escorts.
When the tally is released, it will provide breakdowns by city with information on age, gender and race. Detailed information on the annual count will be released March 1, said Wendy Tippett, Human Services director.
Two teams worked in Boynton Beach, Delray Beach and the Lake Worth/Lantana area, said Keianna Williams, program coordinator for Human Services. One team counted in Boca Raton, she said.
In return for the survey responses, homeless people received $5 gift cards to Publix or Walgreen’s, or a toiletry kit put together by the county Homeless Coalition, Tippett said.
The county will use the information collected to determine how best to assist homeless people, make cities realize they have a homeless problem inside their borders and determine where pockets of need exist. The data also will be used in federal grant applications to help support the requests, according to Tippett.
Delray Beach Police Sgt. Darrell Hunter, supervisor of the Clean and Safe program in the downtown area, said his officers often encounter homeless people in Veterans Park and on the grounds of the historic Old School Square.
He told the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency board in early January about the extra patrols that have been done in both places. The agency pays for the Clean and Safe program.
“Sixty-eight extra patrols were conducted in November in Veterans Park,” he said. The extra patrols are in addition to the 45 “walk-and-talks” and Segway patrols of Veterans Park.
A “walk-and-talk” meeting happens when officers chat with a homeless person to determine his or her needs.
On the Old School Square grounds, because of “vagrant complaints, as well as in anticipation of the holiday-area opening,” 27 extra patrols and four “walk-and-talks” were conducted, Hunter’s November report said.
He also told the CRA board about a spike in the homeless population police witnessed in November. Hunter mentioned Veterans Park, Libby Wesley Park and the Public Library as places homeless people frequent.
“We go into an area and ask certain information — where are you from and how did you get here,” he said. “A lot of these individuals said they were given vouchers from up North to come down to Delray.”
The mention of vouchers prompted CRA board member Paul Zacks to ask, “Who is handing out the vouchers?”
Hunter said at the meeting that the police chief was checking on that.
Two weeks later via email, he said, “the individuals did not provide our officers with the city or who actually gave them the voucher, which makes it hard to follow up.”
The January homeless counters in Delray Beach started at The Caring Kitchen on Northwest Eighth Avenue just off Atlantic Avenue, which runs a hot meal program for homeless people and others on limited incomes.
On Jan. 26, Tippett spent lunchtime in Boca Raton at the Boca Helping Hands center on Northwest First Court near Dixie Manor, where the team interviewed 64 homeless people in one hour.
“Last year, 25 surveys were done. There’s definitely an increase,” she said.
She said homeless people sleep on the streets and “other places not fit for human habitation.” Her list included stairwells, public bathrooms, alleys and park benches.
People are homeless for a variety of reasons, Tippett said. They might lack a living wage in Palm Beach County, where apartment rental rates are rising more quickly than wages; have criminal backgrounds that make it difficult to assimilate; be Vietnam-era veterans who never moved back to their hometowns; have behavioral health issues that include addictions; or be teen runaways.
This year, “We’ve seen an increase of seniors and teens who are homeless,” she said.
Tim Stepien contributed to this story.