WEST PALM BEACH — There are many areas which still need improvement in Palm Beach County, such as homelessness, regulating sober houses and developing and implementing youth enrichment and prevention programs, says PBC Commissioner Priscilla Taylor. She said she plans to continue working on these issues throughout her tenure. In dealing with youth in the community, Taylor said that the county will be following in the vein of President Barack Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, which was designed to help young men and boys of color facing tough odds reach their full potential.
Prevention is key in ensuring that our youth develop into productive citizens and avoid certain pitfalls associated with lack of education and opportunities, Taylor said. “I feel that in order for us to get a handle on what’s going on, we need to actually focus some energy on what we can do to make our kids safe and have them educated and get good jobs,” she said. “So the county did, under my lead, create a youth division.”
Taylor said she pushed for a youth department for the county, which was established earlier this year, because there are so many things that negatively impact children in the area.
Tammy Fields, Palm Beach County Youth Services director, said that the county is working closely with many agencies to offer programs to local communities that support young people. “The youth services department (YSD) works closely with municipalities to offer programs at youth empowerment centers,” she said. “We provide financial support, coordination and other types of assistance to the youth empowerment centers or YECs.”
Fields said that the youth services department also works closely with the Department of Juvenile Justice, juvenile courts, Florida Department of Children and Families, the Criminal Justice Commission, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, municipal police departments and other entities to prevent crime and violence throughout the county.
These efforts are similar to Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, that Taylor says she supports, which also focuses on entities such as private philanthropies, businesses, governors, mayors, faith leaders and nonprofit organizations to help ensure the success of many youths across the nation.
“I definitely feel prevention is key,” Taylor said. “I (think) if a kid makes a mistake, we have to have something (in place) to try to get them back on track.”
Homelessness is also an issue that the county commissioner and former state representative has tried to alleviate. Taylor said that she spearheaded the inaugural Mayor’s Ball, a fundraising gala, last year to aid the homeless population in Palm Beach County, which is an effort that she has pursued for many years. “I started the Mayor’s Ball to try and bring dollars into the county,” she said. “(The proceeds) will be put towards housing for those individuals who are homeless.”
The Homeless Coalition of Palm Beach County was chosen to host the Mayor’s Ball this year, which was held Feb. 28 at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in downtown West Palm Beach. The organization works towards ending homelessness through activities associated with advocacy, education, community outreach and raising funds and resources, according to its website, www.homelesscoalitionpbc.org.
In addition to helping the homeless, Taylor said she would like to see more defined regulations for sober homes or houses. “There was legislation last year where we were trying to get some laws to regulate them,” she said. “Sometimes people rent (their homes) and they put 20 people in there who might be receiving drug treatment or something else (like that).”
Taylor said the homes are supposedly used to assist people with substance abuse issues or addictions. “There are questions concerning the health (of these individuals), housing people with (these issues),” she said. “In many cases, the homeowner gets the individuals’ checks (the individuals in recovery or seeking recovery). But it causes problems with the community where they are.”
Taylor said sober houses continue to be a problem, not only in Palm Beach County but many other counties because they do not fall into any specific category. Therefore, the state is trying to regulate this situation. Taylor said lawmakers, however, have to be careful when implementing regulations and passing laws concerning sober houses because certain parameters are governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment.