The City of West Palm Beach has recently made headlines for playing music on the patio at the Waterfront Lake Pavilion between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. The Waterfront Lake Pavilion is an indoor rental facility, a premier destination for private events such as weddings, bar mitzvahs, or fundraisers.
This measure was undertaken by the City’s Special Events Division after numerous complaints about unsanitary and unsafe conditions on the patio, and blocked access to the Pavilion, resulting from individuals congregating there overnight, holding parties, and playing music. Contrary to some media reports, the volume isn’t blaring, the music is isolated only to the patio adjacent to the Pavilion, and this tactic is not the City’s sole strategy to address homelessness. Since its inception, the measure has proven effective in ensuring the space is of the quality our citizens and customers expect.
The City has received numerous questions about its response to the homelessness problem. Rest assured, the City of West Palm Beach employs numerous strategies—more than many municipalities-- to address the homelessness issue in a compassionate manner.
People are homeless for a variety of reasons, including drug and alcohol addiction, mental health, and the shortage of affordable housing. In some cases, people have just fallen upon hard times.
The City disseminates peer outreach teams throughout the City every day in an attempt to link homeless persons with the many programs and support services offered by the City and our community partners. This strategy has decreased the City’s on-street homeless population by 24% in the last year. As a result of this outreach program, the City has placed approximately a half-dozen people in housing each week.
I am proud of the City’s efforts in this regard. Is there work to be done? Absolutely. That is why shortly after being sworn into office in April of this year, I convened a transition team. Included in that transition team was a committee comprised of numerous experts in the area of homelessness. This committee was given the charge of learning about the City’s current practices regarding homelessness, and recommending to me, as Mayor, policies and programs for addressing the homelessness issue.
There is no “one size fits all” approach to addressing homelessness. We cannot arrest our way out of this problem, and we currently lack the resources to build all the affordable housing that is required.
What is important isn’t the soundtrack being played at the City’s Waterfront Lake Pavilion. Rather, it is the need for a national conversation on the issue of homelessness. According to HUD’s Annual Point-in-Time Count, roughly 553,000 people were experiencing homelessness on a single night in 2018. This number represents 17 out of every 10,000 people in the United States. This is an issue that affects municipalities all across our country—not just the City of West Palm Beach
The City of West Palm Beach isn’t “battling” the homeless population but rather the decades-long inability of national leadership to address the root causes of homelessness, including substance abuse and mental health.
-Keith A. James, Mayor