Friday, February 3, 2023

Delray’s New Approach Toward Homelessness & More

After successfully trying a new approach on drug addiction, Delray Beach will try a similar approach on homelessness.

Using a three-year, $300,000 grant from the Virginia and Harvey Kimmel Family Foundation, the police department has hired what Chief Javaro Sims calls a “service population advocate” for the city’s homeless population that Sims estimates at “about 100” dispersed throughout the city.

Five years ago, the department hired Ariana Ciancio for a similar job servicing those in recovery. The move was groundbreaking, and it came as Delray Beach was still dealing with an explosion of sober homes, many of them designed not to help addicts but fleece them and dump them on the street.

Thirteen months ago, the city commission approved an ordinance designed to crack down on aggressive panhandling. Critics called the ordinance a veiled attack on the homeless. Supporters called it a public safety issue.

Sims’ decision thus comes at a good time. The idea arose, Sims said, from a conversation he was having several months ago with an official of the foundation. Sims mentioned that he wanted to expand the outreach team that includes Ciancio and others, but didn’t have the money in his budget. The grant came soon after.

The department already was working to help the homeless, by providing a shower truck and meals. Sims, though, wanted the department to have “a farther reach. I saw this as an opportunity to get someone with a level of expertise. It’s a natural issue for a police department.”

Sims chose Rosanna Johnson for the assignment. He cited her wide experience, working with human trafficking, juvenile homelessness and domestic abuse. As with Ciancio, Johnson’s goal is to foster trust with people who don’t trust the system and may not be willing to accept services, despite their situation.

“We’re dealing in many cases with broken people,” Sims said. “We provide housing, but someone has to want to stop being homeless, and some are unwilling.” Ciancio encountered similar resistance when she began working with addicts.

Sims said, “It is not a crime to be homeless.” But it is a personal tragedy, whether because of low pay and high rents or substance abuse and/or mental illness. Addressing it is not traditional police work, so Delray Beach will try to address it in a non-traditional way.

“We want to meet them where they are,” Sims said. He plans to include the position in his budget after the grant expires.

New bill to impose restrictions on home rule

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The Legislature on Monday ended a session dominated by culture-war issues, such as the “Don’t Say Gay” and “Stop W.O.K.E.” bills. But Boca Raton and Delray Beach officials were paying more attention to Senate Bill 620.

As originally written, the legislation would have allowed any “lawful” business operating for at least three years to sue a city by showing that a regulation cost the business at least 15 percent of its profit. The original language likely would have discouraged all but the tamest regulations.

Called the “Local Business Protection Act,” it is a priority of Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby. The Florida League of Cities strongly opposed the first version.

The bill did pass, but in amended form. Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer said the League of Cities took a neutral position on the final bill, which Gov. DeSantis likely will sign. He has signed almost all other bills that infringe on home rule.

Among the changes to SB 620 are exemptions for ordinances or charter changes that are necessary to comply with state or federal law and with emergency orders. Another exemption covers changes that relate to “growth policy, county and municipal planning, and land development regulation.”

There are nine exemptions. In addition, cities could grant waivers to businesses. Finally, the law would apply only to ordinances after July 1, when it would take effect. No business could sue over an existing regulation.

Still, “This is a significant policy decision,” said a Florida League of Cities representative. “When a city is considering an ordinance, this is something they will have to think about.”

Boca takes the lead in building inspections

COVID-19

With the Legislature having adjourned, Boca Raton remains the only government in Florida to have acted after last June’s condo collapse in Surfside.

Many trade groups had urged Tallahassee to enact tougher safety standards for older, taller buildings. Legislation got through committees but ultimately failed. The issue got much less attention compared to the 15-week ban on abortion.

Before last year, only Broward and Miami-Dade counties required new inspections of older buildings. In each case, the requirement kicked in at 40 years. Champlain Towers South collapsed as the 40-year date was approaching.

Two months after the collapse, the Boca Raton City Council approved an ordinance that requires reinspections of buildings that are at least 30 years old and four stories tall, private homes exempted. Another round of inspections must come every 10 years after that.

Delray Beach and other cities chose to wait and see whether Palm Beach County would enact a regulation they could adopt. The county discussed it and then decided to wait for the Legislature. The county—or any city—wishing to follow Boca Raton’s lead no longer has any reason to wait.

FAU ranks high in economic mobility

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Photo by Alex Dolce

There seems to be no shortage of lists that colleges can use to market themselves.

For Florida Atlantic University, the latest comes from Third Day, a national political website with a left-of-center bent. According to a news release, FAU ranked 63rd nationwide out of 1,300 institutions for economic mobility.

Third Way based its ranking on a school’s ability to graduate lower- to middle-income students. Many of FAU’s students are the first in their family to attend college. An administrator noted that the federal government has designated FAU a Hispanic-serving institution.

Because of that criterion, Third Way’s ranking is an unusual list. The top-ranked school is California State-Los Angeles, not UCLA. Florida International University in Miami-Dade County is the highest-ranked Florida school. Florida State University is ranked 133rd.

The better-known rankings by US News and World Report emphasizes categories more common to highly selective legacy universities. Even as FAU has pitched itself more to out-of-state students, the university’s core mission remains the increasingly diverse Palm Beach-Broward County area.

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Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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