Special to South Florida Times

WEST PALM BEACH — Adopt-A-Family of the Palm Beaches recently received a $25,000 grant from the TD Bank Charitable Foundation to help make holiday wishes a reality for the needy.

The organization used the money to help the homeless in Palm Beach County.

The goal is to stabilize homeless families and individuals with a full range of services, program coordinator Nydia Sabugo-Marrou said.

“The idea is to house them as stable as possible.  We do a full assessment.  We don’t just hand them a check,” she said. “We identify houses and landlords (with affordable rent).  The average length of stay in the program is six months.”

According to the 2011 Point-In-Time Count for Palm Beach County, 3,228 individuals and families were homeless during a 24-hour time period.

Of that number, more than 1,000 were “doubled up,” typically defined as an individual or family living in a housing unit with extended family, friends and other non-relatives due to loss of housing, economic hardship or a similar reason.

Sabugo-Marrou said the new face of the homeless in Palm Beach County is that of a person who formerly lived within the middle-income bracket. They owned homes and held jobs but now find themselves  casualties of the still weak U.S. economy, she said.

“They don’t know how to apply for food stamps.  Many have lost thousands (renting homes that are already in foreclosure),” Sabugo-Marrou said.

She said Adopt-A-Family conducts a thorough investigation of prospective housing to ensure individuals and families are not exploited.

The rapid rehousing program receives referrals from entities such as domestic violence and homeless shelters. Participants are evaluated for mental and health conditions to help ensure they will be able to move into appropriate housing and live independently.

“After receiving assistance, the clients are renting on their own or on Section 8 housing,” Sabugo-Marrou said.

The program changed Melinda Green’s life after she gave birth to her now 20-month-old son Phoenix, Green said.

“I had just given birth to my son, and was living in a shelter for women.  I had searched for help but couldn’t find any because I didn’t have any children,” she said. “I was literally in the delivery room when Adopt-A-Family could finally help me.”

Green, 26, said she did not meet the age requirements for some programs and other social service programs will not provide aid unless the person has a child or children.

“The rapid rehousing program helped me set goals, manage money, and with management (in general),” she said. “They paid for first and last month’s rent, plus the security deposit.”

Green said the program also paid the first three months of rent until she could get on her feet again in about a year and a half.

She currently runs a daycare from her home in order to support herself and also have the time and money to take care of her son.

Green also started MyDUDES.org, a Web site designed to help single fathers with resources and education so they can reconnect with their families.

The rapid rehousing program was launched on Oct. 1, 2009, and to date has helped place 473 individuals in 191 households, according to Sabugo-Marrou.

Landlords must charge “reasonable” rents to Adopt-A-Family clients in order to participate in the program. Safety inspections are conducted for every unit prior to individuals or families moving into a household.

Green said for a while she lived in an abandoned apartment forcing her to leave her son with a friend’s family.

It wasn’t until Adopt-A-Family stepped in and provided her with resources that she was able to reunite with Phoenix and begin to turn her life around, she said.