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Despite poverty for many in Glades, some residents find hope amid economic despair

'It's like living in a third-world country,' activist for community says
Posted at 9:13 PM, Nov 04, 2022

BELLE GLADE, Fla. — Fairways, beaches and mansions is the Palm Beach County most people recognize. But about 40 miles west of the coast, it's a much different story.

"It's like living in a third-world country," Robert Love said.

The Glades is where NFL legends are born and run into glory. It's also where some people struggle to live and make ends meet.

"Some of these people don't have no voice," Hopeton Bailey told WPTV.

At 104 years old, Carrie Priester has nearly seen it all.

"It's kind of rough here in the Glades," she said. "I think I'm doing pretty good for my life. Getting around on my own, cooking my food."

The great-grandmother, five times over, has called the Glades and its fertile soil home for most of her life — since 1930. She retired in 1990.

Carrie Priester uses her wheelchair to get around outside her Belle Glade apartment
At 104 years old, Carrie Priester uses her wheelchair to get around outside her Belle Glade apartment. She's lived in the Glades since 1930.

"Picked beans, picked tomatoes, cabbage, cut cabbage, stacked grass, all of that," she said. "I did all of that on the muck."

The agriculturally abundant lands worked by people like Priester once did sprout sugar cane, vegetables and hardship for some.

A drive through Belle Glade helps to peel back the layers of poverty that envelop parts of this community.

Robert Love, activist for Glades, speaks to Michael Buczyner during stroll through Belle Glade
Robert Love, an activist for the Glades, speaks to WPTV's Michael Buczyner during a stroll through Belle Glade. Love says residents have become comfortable living in poverty.

"You come to that point where you let people live in these kinds of conditions long enough, they get comfortable with it, and now people (are) comfortable living like this," Love, who calls himself an activist, said.

Numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau for Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay tell a somber story for some people.

Poverty touches 27 to 40% of the roughly 27,000 residents. In some cases, that's more than three times the county average of 11%.

'Percent In Poverty' map of Glades compared to rest of Palm Beach County
This map shows the extreme disparity in those living in poverty in the western Palm Beach County communities.

The median household income across Palm Beach County is $70,000, but in the Glades, it ranges from $28,000 to $40,000.

'Median Household Income' in Glades compared to Palm Beach County
The median household income in the Glades is between $28,000 and $40,000.

Just this week, Palm Beach County commissioners approved $2.5 in funding to assist with improvements and renovations for housing units in the Okeechobee and Osceola centers — a large housing complex in Belle Glade.

Bailey has been a Glades resident for more than three decades.

Hopeton Bailey plays dominoes with friends in Belle Glade
Hopeton Bailey, who has lived in the Glades for more than three decades, plays dominoes with friends in Belle Glade. "Life been good here for me, and I can speak for others too, as well," he tells WPTV.

"Life been good here for me, and I can speak for others too, as well," he said. "Belle Glade is not normally like how you see this is here. You have to go out around the place and you can see a whole lot different."

But on the corner where WPTV met Bailey, reminders of the challenges are just about everywhere.

"Look at that tree right there," Bailey said, pointing to a downed tree. "You know how many months it's been fall and broken there and nobody working in the city comes around and recognizes that this needs to be cut up and removed."

downed tree outside apartment complex in Belle Glade
A downed tree rests in the grass outside a run-down apartment complex in Belle Glade. Hopeton Bailey says it's been that way for months.

Despite it all, Love said, he's not giving up on Pahokee, Belle Glade and South Bay.

"You know why I ain't never gonna give up on it?" he said. "Because I know [there is] hope out here."