Here’s what West Palm Beach, Florida, plans to do about its homelessness situation: play annoying kids songs like “Baby Shark” on a loop through the night to keep people from sleeping at a key waterfront pavilion.
“People are paying a lot of money to use the facility,” Leah Rockwell, the local Parks and Recreation director, told the Palm Beach Post in a report that published Tuesday. “Thousands of dollars. We want to make sure people paying this money had a facility that was clean and open and continue to use it in the future.”
The pavilion is important to the city of about 110,000 because it brings in nearly $240,000 annually from event fees primarily related to weddings.
A staggering affordable-housing shortage has resulted in nearly 1,400 people experiencing homelessness in Palm Beach County, according to the most recent government data, and homelessness rates are generally declining in West Palm Beach, which leads the county’s unsheltered population.
However, Greater Miami — which includes Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, and Broward counties — also faces an affordable housing crisis that outpaces even New York City’s, according to the Miami Urban Future Initiative. That can make it difficult to house people more permanently. Even though the region hosts a massive stock of 2.5 million housing units, only 4 percent of those residences have been built since 2010 and available stock primarily consists of expensive condos.
In June, Palm Beach County Commissioner Hal Valeche told local station CBS-12 that the county was placing porta-potties at some larger homeless encampments, and recognized the root of the problem. Rockwell emphasized to the Post, too, that the city was focused on finding solutions better than just playing kids’ songs on a loop.
"Well, I think we need to create more [housing] units," Valeche told the television station. "I mean that is clearly a goal of ours."
Additionally, the Parks & Recreation department pays homeless people $10 per hour to clean up county parks, but only if they abstain from alcohol or drug use. Rockwell told the Post that the city is working on establishing set hours for the pavilion, which would allow it to more easily enforce trespassing laws against homeless people. (Advocates for the homeless argue such laws criminalize sleeping on the streets and result in legal fees offenders can’t pay.)
The city has also asked for the help of state and federal officials in addressing the affordable housing issue. Florida’s state government has dipped into its own affordable housing trust fund multiple times to pull cash for other government programs. And President Donald Trump’s most recent federal budget called for serious cuts to the government’s affordable housing programs.
Cover: The sun peaks over the horizon and lights up the sky along the West Palm Beach, Fla., waterfront, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)