STUART, Fla. — Homelessness in the Treasure Coast is a harsh reality for some, while others are just starting to come to grips with it. Martin County Human Services estimates there were 266 homeless individuals at the start of 2021. However, one non-profit on the front lines said the number is closer to approximately 2,000.
The non-profit organization Love and Hope in Action (LAHIA) started as a church picnic in 2007, but parishioners weren’t the only people on the guest list.
”We prefer people that come with a non-judgemental attitude that are hear to help the people we’re helping,” said LAHIA President and CEO Brenda Dickerson. ”The numbers that we serve just keep on climbing — we’re up to 2,030 in our database.”
Dickerson is referring to people who are homeless or on the verge of homelessness in survival mode in Martin County. It’s estimated that 15% are the working homeless. People you’ll find on busy intersections, in public parks and competing with wildlife in homeless camps.
"When you’re sick, down and out on your luck — it’s sad that this is an option even,” said Gail Harvey, Tent City Helpers board president.
Every Monday, Harvey and a team of volunteers go under bridges, behind stores and other public spaces distributing supplies and homeless resource information. To learn more about Tent City Helpers, click here.
"There are people out there that are working their butts off and trying to make a living without a shower, living in their car, trying to find a way to make it without housing," Harvey said. "So there’s a lot of hardworking people out there."
People like Christianne Taylor who works full-time as a prep cook at a Martin County restaurant but lays her head in the brush at night.
”There’s nowhere for me to go. None at all,” Taylor said.
She’s one of a growing number of individuals who are priced out and homeless.
”You’re having all of these people flood into the Treasure Coast: Rents are high. Home prices are high,” said Tom Essaye, Sevens Report Research president and economist. “Where are the jobs that are going to support these rents?”
Essaye points to the increase in households who are cost burdened. Roughly 39% of people who live in the Treasure Coast spend more than 30% of their gross income on housing, according to a report from the Florida Housing Coalition.
And studies show rents have also increased by double digit percentages over the last year. Learn more here:
”There is a limited supply of housing and they are paying up for it,” Essaye said. “Unless you have sort of organic job growth in the community that really supports increased wages then unfortunately a lot of people get prices out of the market.”
”They think we’re a nuisance. That we’re a problem — and we’re not,” added Sabrina Brandt. “We’re trying to live and survive like everyone else.”
Which takes us back to LAHIA, an organization assisting the homeless and unemployed in Stuart.
LAHIA’s sprawling day time campus provides daily meals, free laundry services, showers and case management services.
”It is definitely real,” said Yvette Gregory, LAHIA director of client services. “We don’t have a place where people can live for a period of time that will help them with they finances, get their legal issues straightened around — all of those things that really so many of our homeless people down.”
Until now. LAHIA is going to do what Camp Haven, Inc. has done for Indian River County and what The Lord’s Place has done for Palm Beach County.
”Give them a place to stay for a year or two to get their feet on the ground. Get their lives straightened out,” Gregory said. “if they have court costs or legal issues or child support or financial things that need straightened out — we can help them straighten that out.”
Prior to the pandemic, LAHIA met with Martin County commissioners to plead their case.
”One hundred percent of commissioners supported our cause," Gregory said.
The cause includes finding a piece of property to house the homeless. LAHIA’s transitional housing program would require that within the first 30 days new intakes find a job, learn budgeting, pay reduced rate rent and put money away for a later date.
”Seventy percent of their income has to be saved so when they are ready in a year to two years they have money in the bank to be able to either buy a place or to rent something that they can afford,” said Gregory.
LAHIA’s executive board said building plans are in place for the 14 to 28 unit facility. A specific location should be announced within the next few months. Proof your heart will be where your treasure is.
“It has not been a secret and it’s not something that we’re trying to hide under a rug,” said Yvette Gregory, LAHIA director of client services. “It doesn’t matter who it is. God challenges us to love our brothers and sisters no matter where they are.”
In the interim, LAHIA is looking for volunteers to support daily operations.
Volunteer opportunities include:
- Morning hygiene cottage monitors - 2-hour shifts between 7 a.m. and 12 p.m.
- Early afternoon cleaning - 2-hour shifts between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Late afternoon hygiene cottage monitor/cleaning - 1.5 hour shift between 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
- Kitchen - 8:00 a .m. to 6:30 pm, Monday thru Friday - cook, prep, serve, dishwashers, clean - pick a shift that suits your schedule
- Several drivers are needed year round to provide rides to medical appointments, rehab, bus station and court dates, Monday thru Friday.
To learn more about volunteer opportunities call (772) 781-7002 or visit LAHIA's wesbite: http://www.lahia.org/volunteer/.