PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — With the new year, comes a new plan to end homelessness in Palm Beach County.
Ten years after the first plan to end homelessness there are still thousands of people in the county who don’t have a home. County commissioners approved a new plan, Tuesday hoping to help.
On one of the busiest streets in downtown West Palm Beach, you’ll find Joey Nieves taking the time to listen.
“It’s not a place for anybody to be, but especially a senior citizen,” he told one man sitting outside Dunkin’ on Clematis Street.
For people passing by, the square is a place where a person stops to grab a drink or meet up with a friend. For the men and woman sitting on the cement blocks with only a backpack or a few plastic bags, it serves as a home.
“A lot of people look in disgust, but me I just see another human being who is going through a hard time. Someone who needs a helping hand,” Nieves said.
That’s because Nieves was once in their shoes. For years he lived on the streets while struggling with addiction now he’s an Engagement Specialist at the Lord’s Place. The peer specialist model is one CEO of the Lord’s Place, Diana Stanley says has helped them better identify the specific needs of the homeless community.
“Engagement is important because we have so many folks living out on the streets that don’t trust the system,” she said.
From 2016 to 2018, the Palm Beach County School District reported a nearly 25 percent increase in the number of students experiencing homelessness, going from 3,347 reported students to 4,415.
In 2018, the Palm Beach County’s Community Services Department identified 1,397 people living on the streets. Sparking county leaders to adjust the new plan to combat homelessness.
“Right now we are focused on youth, and we are focused on veterans, but we are also focused on seniors. So, those are the three populations we are taking a look at,” Wendy Tippett said.
Tippett is the Director of Human and Veterans Services. She says they are using the new plan to bring more seats to the table. The “Leading the Way Home Plan” creates individual committees for six key focus areas like Healthcare, Permanent Housing, and Support Services.
“I think it’s really important that the community owns the plan,” Tippett said. “That it’s not run by government or the county. That these communities are run by the community.”
A plan Nieves believes could make the difference.
"Acknowledgement can bring someone out of a hopeless state on mind,” he said.