the Executive Director of the Homeless Coalition of Palm Beach County leading the mission to end homelessness.
By Laura Tingo
We cannot tackle the issues of homelessness alone, it takes the whole community working together.
— Marilyn Munoz
What was your best experience with a member of the homeless community?
One woman who stands out was living day to day trying to find money for a night in a hotel with her 7 children instead of her car. She was very resourceful and was working with many churches. When she called us we were able to refer her to the Lewis Center where she worked with Adopt-a-Family and a rental was finally located for her. The Homeless Coalition paid the move-in costs and she was able to maintain the apartment. She now volunteers with us when she can and also brings her teenagers to help others the way she was helped.
Almost everyone we come into contact with is very appreciative of any help that can be provided. Everyone deserves a place to call home and to be treated with dignity and respect.
What was your worst?
The worst experience is when someone calls you and there are absolutely no resources available to help them. For the elderly, young woman, teenager, family, for anyone… can you imagine the agony, fear and hopeless feeling when you are told that you cannot get helped today, and that you will need to wait until there is an opening?
What is the biggest challenge in your work?
The biggest challenge is affordable low income housing. It is hard enough for someone who is not homeless to find affordable rentals when they are working at a median wage. Imagine trying to afford $1200 a month for a one-bedroom when you are making $10 an hour. Watch for the SMART Landlord Campaign which will be kicking off in June. We are looking for landlords willing to be part of the solution – identifying truly affordable rental units so that we can continue to help families and individuals move from homelessness to home.
What is one misconception the community has about being homeless?
The common misconception is that the people you see holding signs at street corners or in parks are the face of homelessness. Also, people tend to think all those living on the streets want to be there and that they are mentally ill and substance abusers. The fact is the face of homelessness in our community is far ranging. We have a very large population of elderly people who are homeless because they cannot make ends meet and cannot afford rent with just their social security check. There are also a large number of youth ages 18-24 who find themselves on their own, without any support once they turn 18 and end up homeless. Families and individuals who work fulltime end up homeless when they are evicted or lose their place to live and they can’t afford the 1st, last and deposit on a new place. The face of homelessness looks like you or me.
How do you decompress and disconnect from the serious nature of your work?
This is definitely the hardest work I have encountered because people depend on what you are doing to be able to hope again that things will be alright. To re-energize I love to travel and experience new things. I also like to read and spend time walking in the beautiful parks in our community.
What is one of the best things about your work?
Being able to help someone move from the street into their permanent place to call home is one of the highlights of our work. Just answering the phone and giving someone hope that they will be helped is very gratifying. Our office team is very flexible and knows that demands and work can change daily. We are a great small team that is able to deliver huge accomplishments.
What is one fact that would surprise people to learn about “the homeless?”
At minimum wage in Palm Beach County you would have to work three full-time jobs to afford “affordable” housing. 42% of our residents are severely cost-burdened renters (they spend more than 30% of their income on rent). Most people experience homelessness because they cannot afford the price of housing or are extremely housing cost burdened. Once you lose your housing – whether because you are asked to move out or if you are evicted – trying to find a reasonable place to live and coming up with the rental deposit is out of bounds for the majority of our population.
Share two recent successes or awards recently garnered under your leadership.
The Mayor’s Ball — The first Mayor’s Ball started four years ago in Palm Beach County, when Mayor Priscilla Taylor asked the Homeless Coalition to host it and use the proceeds to help the homeless in our community. We have averaged net proceeds of approximately $200,000 for each event which goes straight to providing housing assistance to families and individuals through one of our homeless service provider partners at the Lewis Center.
Grant Award and Ongoing Education — This past year the Homeless Coalition was the proud recipient of the Bank of America Neighborhoods Builders Grant. This is an unrestricted grant of $200,000 that is awarded to a high performing nonprofit. Most importantly it provides leadership training for the Executive Director and an Emerging Leader where you are joined by the 62 other award recipients from across the United States connecting them with tools for success. We are very proud to be selected for this prestigious award.
Can “Homelessness” really end?
Our vision is to end homelessness in Palm Beach County. Our Mission is to provide sufficient resources through housing, education, advocacy and community collaboration.
In order to do this, Palm Beach County needs much more resources than they currently have. The goal of the Mayor’s Ball is to bring awareness that we all need to work together on one plan to help people experiencing homelessness attain permanent housing. All net proceeds from the Mayor’s Ball goes into our Creating Housing Opportunities Program that pays first, last month’s rent and deposits so permanent housing can be accessible. Last year 141 families and 39 individuals were able to move into a place to call home. This year in just five months, the funds to move individuals into housing has already been depleted and we just moved an additional $100,000 from our reserves into the program so that homeless individuals can continue to be provided with this assistance to end their homelessness.
How can the community help?
Further collaboration — The Homeless Coalition works in partnership with many outstanding homeless service provider organizations. I would like to thank Adopt-A-Family, Gulfstream Goodwill, the Lord’s Place and PBC Human Services for all the work they do to help those who are homeless and for our excellent working partnership. We cannot tackle the issues of homelessness alone; it takes the whole community working together.
Volunteer time and resources — When someone takes the time to volunteer with us and they interact with those experiencing homelessness, they are inspired to take action. Usually it takes hearing first-hand accounts of why someone is homeless and what services are available in our community to help them overcome their crisis to get people to want to take action. Especially, when they hear that there are so many people just waiting to be helped if we only had additional funding and housing.
If you were starting a company tomorrow, what would be its top values?
Respect, Honesty, Collaboration, Visionary
What are characteristics that people use to describe you?
I had to ask someone to help me with this one. Some are that I am honest, intelligent, hard-working, and loyal. I am a person who will follow through on commitments and always be a team player. I am a leader who values other’s opinions and feel it is important to role model and mentor others.
What are some other causes that you are passionate about?
If I wasn’t working with homelessness I would most likely be advocating for those with mental illness or substance abuse. I would also like to work on a plan to help people in poverty move out of poverty.
Everyone deserves a place to call home and to be treated with dignity and respect.