PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Palm Beach County commissioners approved a $2.5 million contract with Gulfstream Goodwill Industries on Tuesday to provide an emergency shelter for homeless people.
The county will use a former correctional facility, located at 673 Fairgrounds Road near the South Florida Fairgrounds near West Palm Beach, as a temporary shelter.
The 17-acre compound is currently vacant but is being maintained for future use.
The shelter will have approximately 100 to 125 beds and will serve as a resource center offering medical and behavioral health care, job assistance, along with food and laundry service.
The goal is to relocate homeless people currently living in tents at John Prince Park to the new shelter.
"We are doing what we can to soften the facility make it a little more humane, if you will," said James Green, the Director of Community Services for Palm Beach County.
For weeks, homeless advocates have debated the impact of the deadly coronavirus on our most vulnerable populations like the homeless, elderly, and those with underlying medical conditions.
Advocates said the emergency shelter is needed for the approximately 1,400 homeless people and families in Palm Beach County.
"Ever since this pandemic happened, a lot of people here lost their jobs," said Francky Pierre Paul, the founder of Different Shade of Love, a local non-profit organization that helps the homeless. "A lot of people in here used to make $300 a week. Of course, in Palm Beach County, you can’t get a one bedroom apartment with that."
Paul is a consistent face for the people living in John Prince Park.
"Anything that has to do with alleviating homelessness we provide that service," said Paul.
The financial strain of the COVID-19 pandemic slowed down help from other non-profits. Paul said with the help of local restaurants, he’s been able to at least provide food and sanitary supplies.
"When you get to know their stories, you can understand," said Paul.
Officials said people will not be forced to use the emergency shelter once it opens.
County leaders have not announced an official opening date for the shelter.
Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said she doesn't believe the location near the South Florida Fairgrounds is the best spot for the emergency shelter. However, she supported moving forward with it for several reasons, including having a neighborhood committee, 24-hour security, and law enforcement patrol the area.
On Tuesday, officials also asked the public to assist with the housing demands facing the homeless.
"So that we can put individuals into apartments and not necessarily have to move them into a temporary, but move them into an apartment, especially families," said Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker.
If you're a landlord and willing to rent to the county's homeless population, you can be guaranteed up to 24 months of rent.
For more information about the S.M.A.R.T Landlords Campaign, click here.