Published On: Fri, Jul 8th, 2016

A Classic Case of Effective Community, Government Partnership

News that a woman and four children were living in their jalopy in a parking lot downtown for three months struck me with the same urgency as when I learned that I had a hole in my roof or

my car needed a new fan belt. My immediate thought: Fix it now.

I did not ask a litany of questions as many would and did upon hearing her story. Instead, I instructed her to follow me.

Now, we are often critical of governmental agencies – and sometimes rightfully so – for their lack of empathy, laziness and unprofessionalism.

But there are instances, as in this case, where kudos is warranted to the many public servants who are ethical and even go above and beyond their job descriptions. Such is the case of the Delray Beach Housing Authority.

After learning of the family’s dilemma, the president/CEO, Dorothy Ellington, and her staff went into overdrive mode. Within minutes, Shirley Erazo, the chief operating officer, found a three- bedroom apartment in a very nice community. Then there came some bureaucratic hurdles.

Not having a fixed address, the woman wrote “homeless” on the application, which delayed the process. Erazo also found out there were some restrictions on the use of a pool of money.

However, she did not give up and pleaded with HUD officials in Tallahassee, who after three weeks, gave the nod to subsidize the woman’s rent for one year.

“Praise God,” Erazo said. “I am so happy for her. We pushed to make this happen because this is a woman we think is deserving.”

Meanwhile, I reached out to my friends who pitched in: one gave up her living room set, a furniture store donated a bed, my friends in the police department offered to make sure she had enough clothing for her four children, ages 7, 6, 2 and four months old, another offered to provide her with linen and household goods. It was so gratifying to see the spirit of community, people pitching in to help someone who they never met. All they knew – help was needed to improve someone’s life.

I learned that the breadwinner, the father of one of the woman’s children, was murdered in August sending her spiraling. Her car became their home after she was evicted and her belongings were cast out on the sidewalk. (Her car sounds like a crop duster before takeoff and fumes like a pest control machine). She would spend the evenings at a local park until closing then park in front of the police station at night. Each morning, they would shower at the beach before daybreak.

I also spoke with the woman’s bosses, who agreed to work with her schedule so she would have time to pick up her children from childcare. A friend even volunteered his children to babysit until she got home.

This was a classic case of the community addressing a need. It often does not require the government to solve the neighborhoods’ issues, just each of us doing our part.

I recall how the kids’ eyes lit up as the movers brought the bed and sofa inside the apartment.

The 2-year- old bounced off the sofa as if it was a trampoline.

I am still perplexed. I often hear elected officials and some homeless advocates say that there is help for the homeless in Palm Beach County 24 x 7. Still, I keep hearing horror stories of families living in cars or people, like Cedric Barr, who cannot get into some of the shelters because they do not meet one of the three criteria: being on drugs, declared mentally insane or have an arrest record.

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