Palm Beach County to run sites for aid to homeless

Belle Glade, Pahokee facilities will operate in tandem

BELLE GLADE/PAHOKEE — This summer may be remembered for more than the COVID-19 pandemic if the Palm Beach Board of County Commissioners’ plans for dealing with the homelessness problem — finally including special help for the Glades region — are successfully fulfilled.

The BCC and county staff have taken great strides in the past decade in building an infrastructure with assistance from community organizations to fashion a safety net for the county’s coastal homeless population. In 2012, they established the Senator Philip D. Lewis Homeless Resource Center on 45th Street in West Palm Beach as a clearinghouse for services to homeless people, and just this month they opened a new Lewis Center Annex for housing at the South Florida Fairgrounds, in part as a response to the COVID-19 crisis but also because of the continuing problems of homeless people taking up residence in public use areas of John Prince Park in Lake Worth.

Non-congregate sheltering

Their plan including the Lewis Center Annex and a new Non-Congregate Sheltering (NCS) Strategy was approved by the Palm Beach County Board on June 2, and later that month county staff and District 6 County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay conducted a community town meeting and question/answer session for local officials and residents.

Here are the county’s specific plans for the Glades communities’ sheltering of homeless people, taken from its FAQs list distributed for the June 18 community meeting:
“The NCS Strategy for the Western Communities proposes the renovation and use of two county-owned facilities to provide for a multisite non-congregate sheltering operation serving those in need of isolation due to the coronavirus emergency. The facility located in Belle Glade (formerly occupied by Jerome Golden Center Inc., at 341 N.W. 11th St.) will serve as the Intake and Assessment Center. A second facility located in Pahokee (1749 E. Main St.) will provide 42 one-bedroom/one-bath units for families, seniors, couples and singles. The units will be used for emergency housing up to 90 days and supportive housing up to 24 months; all the while receiving individually determined wrap-around services.”

Here are some more of the questions staff answered:

NCS Q&As from county

What is non-congregate sheltering (NCS)?

Non-congregate sheltering means locations where each individual or household has living space that offers some level of privacy, which is interpreted as its own room and sanitary facilities.

Why is NCS relevant in relation to the coronavirus emergency?

Given that the coronavirus most easily spreads from person-to-person in close quarters, non-congregate sheltering has been the preferred option to care for those in need of isolation.

How is Palm Beach County providing for NCS throughout its jurisdiction?

The county secured six reservation/buyout agreements that provided it access to over 350 hotel rooms. Agreements were secured in all geographical regions of the county with the west (Glades) region being the only exception.

How will the multisite NCS operate?

Immediately upon opening and while the need for COVID-related sheltering exists in the Western Communities, these facilities will provide for sheltering of those requiring isolation due to COVID-19 related cases.

At the Belle Glade facility families, singles, youth and seniors will receive a full assessment for services and will be entered into the coordinated entry system. If identified as being at high risk of, or positive to, COVID-19 and have no other non-congregate housing option to achieve the isolation, the individual and/or families will be assigned an emergency shelter unit in Pahokee.

The six individual sleeping rooms at the Belle Glade facility will provide for housing while being evaluated for an emergency or supportive housing placement. The Belle Glade facility will be in continuous operation. Staff and security will be on site to ensure smooth transition into the site and comprehensive services. Only individuals and/or families with a referral will be brought to Belle Glade facility for evaluation. “Walk-ups” will not be permitted, and this location will not be used as a feeding site. Those in need of isolation will be referred to the Pahokee facility and transported to the Pahokee facility if the person(s) does not have their own transportation.

The Pahokee facility will have a resident manager onsite and provide for continuous operation, including provision of daily security services. Isolation protocols call for those in isolation to stay inside their assigned quarters, outside interaction being limited to medical staff. To ensure operational soundness and adherence to sheltering best practices, the units at the Pahokee facility will be distributed to ensure that there is separation amongst the different population groups being served.

The county itself will operate and manage these projects.

Also, county staff included this statement about the costs:

“Current estimates indicate that up to $5 million in capital improvements will be needed at the Pahokee facility and will be funded with CARES Act monies as part of the county’s response to the coronavirus emergency. Combined annual operating costs are estimated at $2.2 million and will be included in the county’s budget, likely a combination of ad valorem and federal grant sources. In summary, the county will fund the entirety of the capital and operating budgetary needs; there is no ask to the cities.”

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