NEW: Homeless numbers drop in West Palm Beach for second year

WEST PALM BEACH — The number of homeless people fell by 24 percent the past year, according to the latest annual “Point in Time” count, released Tuesday by West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James.

The city counted 354 homeless in January, down from 462 a year earlier, James said in a news conference he called Tuesday afternoon. That followed a 9 percent drop from 2017 to 2018.

West Palm’s 354 represents half of the county’s 707 homeless, according to the one-day count. Lake Worth Beach had 174, or about 25 percent of the total; Delray Beach counted 72, or 10 percent; Belle Glade, 32, or 4.5 percent; and Boynton Beach had 28, or 4 percent of the total. Boca Raton had 16 homeless people, or just over 2 percent of the county total; Jupiter had 14, or 2 percent, and Palm Beach Gardens had 9 homeless people, or just over 1 percent.

James hailed the reduction as a victory for several agencies that reach out to homeless residents, to connect them with social services. Those agencies include the city police and Department of Housing and Community Development, the countywide Health Care District and Homeless Coalition, and nonprofits Gulfstream Goodwill, Vickers House, Vita Nova and The Lord’s Place, he said.

“That is a huge, huge number,” the mayor said, adding that it comes at a time when homeless populations are soaring across the U.S.

“There’s much more work to do,” he said. “There’s no quick fix.”

James, who took office in April, said part of his transition team is assigned to review West Palm Beach’s approach toward homelessness. The group, which includes business people, residents and social service professionals, will meet on strategies with the Mayor’s Office in coming weeks, he said.

Jennifer Ferriol, director of Housing and Community Development, urged the public to be patient. “With homelessness, solutions come slowly,” she said.

Through her department the city provides funding, services and programs for the homeless. These include permanent housing, supportive housing, rapid rehousing, food assistance, relocation assistance, assessment and referral services to the Senator Philip D. Lewis Homeless Center, and job placement assistance.

Downtown merchants and residents have pressured City Hall for more than a year to clear downtown of the homeless.

“We hear your concern,” Ferriol said. “We’re working hard for you…. We ask for your patience, we ask for your support, we ask for your collaboration… and we ask for your compassion.”

The annual count was conducted across Palm Beach County on Jan. 24, 2019, by outreach workers and volunteers who canvas communities and un-sheltered persons including individuals, families and unaccompanied minors. They also identify if a person is chronically homeless or disabled.

“Public safety and addressing the issues of homelessness are top priorities for my administration, and I am very pleased with the strides our city is making to address the issue,” James said. “I am focused on listening to our community, working with our community partners, and ensuring that we do everything we can to address the issue and create a community of opportunity for all,” said James, echoing one of his campaign pledges.

(Last year’s reduction was at the time announced by then-Mayor Jeri Muoio as a drop of 14 percent. But upon review Tuesday, Ferriol said the count of homeless for January 2018 appeared to have been accidentally transposed, from 462 people to 426, so the actual drop, from 498 in 2017 to 462 was actually a 9 percent decrease.)

tdoris@pbpost.com

CONTACT: Jennifer Ferriol, Director of Housing and Community Development-(561)

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