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West Palm Beach has new leader to help homeless community

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Posted at 4:53 PM, Feb 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-11 19:37:12-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — For the first time in its history, the the city of West Palm Beach will have a Homeless Services Coordinator.

Mayor Keith James says the goal is to bridge the gap between the homeless and the resources available to help.

Step into Currie Park in West Palm Beach and mixed in between the sweeping views of the intracoastal and palm trees is a makeshift community.

"In the cooler months we do seem to see an influx of homeless," said Russ Griffin, the owner of Finer Optics.

About mile down the road on Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach a similar situation.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes," said Griffin “The infrastructure is just not there to satisfy the need that is present.”

The city is looking to bridge that gap.

“Homelessness is not a West Palm Beach problem. It’s not a Palm Beach County problem. It’s a national problem," said Mayor Keith James.

On Tuesday, Mayor James introduced the city’s first Homeless Services Coordinator, Marcus Laws.

In this role, Mr. Laws will be responsible for overseeing the development and execution of the City’s Housing and Community Development homelessness initiatives in conjunction with community partners, city departments, local businesses, and more. He will provide strategic guidance for resource allocation, ensure that homelessness concerns are addressed in a timely manner, and establish community connections to maximize HCD efforts.

According to the 2019 ‘Point In Time Count’ there are 1,397 homeless people in Palm Beach County. West Palm Beach accounts for 354 of them, which is down from 462 counted in 2018.

“The first thing I want to accomplish is I want to have each agency that involved in homelessness issues to come together so we can be a collective," said Laws.

Laws says he also wants homeless people o get the mental health services they need, citing the sudden closure of the Jerome Golden Center.

“But that also does lead us to an increase in seeing an increase of mental health symptoms on the street," said Laws.

“I was riding my bike under the bridge on Flagler. A 22-year-old jumped me. He tried to get my backpack and rob me, instead he knocked me down to the ground, took out a knife and stabbed me," said Suzanne Ketchum.

Ketchum says West Palm Beach police later identified her attacker as 22-year-old D'Antoine Roselle Jackson.

Ketchum says she later learned he was homeless. Now as she awaits his trial, she is pushing for Jackson and other homeless individuals to get the mental help they need.

“When you’re working and you’re not making ends meet thats part of it and the other problem is mental illness without a doubt. It’s everybody’s problem," Ketchum.