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One Paycheck Away: Families struggle to survive in Palm Beach County

Posted at 2:44 PM, Jan 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-30 18:16:39-05

WPTV is committed to raising awareness about affordable housing issues in South Florida. "One Paycheck Away: American Dream In Crisis" is a series of special reports looking into the reality of living one paycheck away from losing it all.

Nearly half of all families in Palm Beach County can’t afford to live here, according to a 2016 report funded by the United Way.

The report shows 47 percent of families in Palm Beach County live below the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) threshold for cost of living, and 17 percent of people live in outright poverty.


To afford a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment, a person making minimum wage at $8.46 an hour would have to work two and a half jobs, the report says.

Carmen Fusco and Racheal Miralda are two moms with different backgrounds, sharing the impact of a crisis. Fusco is a single mother of two, and Miralda is married with two kids and another on the way.

"When both dads and I separated it was like, okay, you’re on your own, you got the kids. Boom!" Fusco said.

However, both mothers said the cost of living in Palm Beach County eventually led to them living in guilt on the streets.

"I'm trying to find somewhere for us to sleep," said Fusco. "I’m trying to find somewhere for us to go, and they’re Iike, but it’s raining. I’m like, we have nowhere to go, baby."

"Yes, we stayed in the car at that rest stop," Miralda recalled. "I said, I was so sorry. I apologized to my son for not being careful enough."

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, in 2019 the West Palm Beach metro area was the fourth most expensive area for housing in the state, requiring a $27.58 per hour income.

"Everywhere you go, you have to pay something," Fusco said.

"Like that paycheck to paycheck, and a lot of families, that's how we do live," Miralda said.

The median monthly income in Palm Beach County is $1,100, while the median rent for a two bedroom apartment is $1,400.

Fusco knows the stress of not enough money at the end of the month. She said she made $12 an hour and worked 50 hours a week and still couldn’t afford a place for her family.

"My lowest point was when I was sleeping in the park with Kyla and Jacob," Fusco recalled.

According to the School District of Palm Beach County School, there are 4,000 homeless children in the school system. Fusco’s children, Kyla and Jacob, are two of them.

"How do you come up out of this?" Fusco asked. "How do you break the cycle? How do you change what you are in?"

Adopt-A-Family of the Palm Beaches is trying to help. On a construction site in Lake Worth Beach near the organization's office on 1712 2nd Avenue, 14 new apartments and a community center are being built.

Matt Constantine, the President of Adopt-A-Family, said they raised the money through aggressive fundraising.

"I can tell you, last week our agency received over 400 phone calls," said Constantine. "So it's not physically possible for us to serve all these folks."

"Out of the 110 units, how many are available?" WPTV journalist Sabirah Rayford asked Constantine.

"They are all occupied or spoken for," Constantine answered. "Unfortunately, there is a waiting list for every program that we operate."

When asked if he would call this a crisis, Constantine was quick to respond.

"I would call the housing issue a crisis in Palm Beach County," said Constantine.

After living in a park for two months, Fusco is happy to be in one of Adopt-A-Family’s temporary shelters with her two kids. While she waited for a spot to open up, Adopt-A-Family assigned a case worker to help her in the meantime.

Miralda got one of four spots with the Family Promise Agency. Their program takes in homeless families and helps them find jobs or budget and save to afford an apartment.

For the Miralda family, it took three months of extreme budgeting to be able to afford a one bedroom apartment in West Palm Beach.

"It’s a miracle apartment," Miralda said.

County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay has a proposal she hopes will prevent people from living in the parks.

"I'm a single parent and trying to find a place where I still have enough leftover for car payment, car insurance, gas, food, what the kids needed, utility bills, health care costs, it's a struggle," McKinlay said.

McKinlay pushed for three years to get funding for the county’s first family cottage community. The proposal calls for at least 17 small homes on two plots of land in Lake Worth Beach, located at 3551 S. Military Trail and 4521 Clements Street.

"People don't need that much," McKinlay said. "They just need a small, safe place to live."

It’s a small step toward solving a growing crisis, but one Miralda and Fusco believe could save other families.

"When you work so hard, you never really think it could get so bad," Miralda said.

"Coming from being homeless and seeing people and sleeping next to other homeless people, I realized if no one sits down and talks with them, some are, like, stuck," Fusco said. "They don’t really have the mindset or haven’t thought of how to get out, or know how to get out."