Tony Mucci lived in his car for two and a half years. Between the mosquitoes, sticky, humid air and the never-ending search for a safe place to park, there were many sleepless nights.
When his 2006 Mercury Marquis was repossessed he took refuge on the couches of friends and acquaintances. “I was down and out and running out of places to stay,” says the 64-year-old, who was evicted from his apartment after he lost his job and couldn’t afford the rent. “It was the first time I was without a job or a car. I worked all my life. I am old-school.”
Just as he was running out of places to crash, he heard about The Senator Philip D. Lewis Center – Palm Beach County’s first homeless resource center. The facility, which offers a single-point of access to connect homeless individuals and families to services, resources and housing, opened in 2012. “It turned my life around,” he says about the West Palm Beach-based organization. “I would have been sleeping under a bridge if they hadn’t helped me.
Mucci now lives in an efficiency in Riviera Beach, has a job at a restaurant – and a new outlook on life. “They gave me a chance to get back on my feet. I have a roof over my head and peace of mind. I’m living large,” he says with pride.
His place is even more special, he says, because it came with a comfy, new mattress and a 32-inch flat screen TV – courtesy of GL Homes’ Good Night Sleep Initiative.
“GL Homes has been sensitive to those who can’t afford our homes. We have supported The Homeless Coalition of Palm Beach County and The Lewis Center, and were looking for additional ways to enhance their efforts,” explains Dick Norwalk, chief operating officer of GL Homes. “The Lewis Center is the focal point for homeless people trying to get back on their feet and to become self-sufficient once again. We learned that, due to risks such as bedbugs, donated mattresses were an unsatisfactory answer for clients moving into apartments. New mattresses, pillows and sheets eliminate those risks. We also believe that an apartment without comforts such as a television would feel institutional. Providing a TV with an antenna that requires no cable fees helps make the new apartment feel more like a home.”
GL Homes has provided $25,000 worth of items so far this year. “It’s an open-ended commitment to the Lewis Center, depending on the number of homeless clients for whom they can provide housing,” says Norwalk.
The help from GL Homes has made quite an impact, says Ezra Krieg, the center’s program director. “This gives them the best shot at having a good night’s sleep, which is something that is often overlooked. It tells them they are important. GL is saying to them ‘best of luck.’ It’s an incredible gift and a terrific way to start their new life,” he says.
Norwalk agrees. “This move signals a transition for the client. What we all hope for at that point is that the client is now over the hump and that they never look back,” he notes. “The Lewis Center is the rare organization whose success can be measured in the number of clients that they help, then never see again.”
The center, named in honor of the late Florida Senate president, Philip D. Lewis, a longtime advocate for the homeless, provides temporary housing for homeless individuals and families – but the goal is to get clients into their own home, Krieg says. Once they find a place, the center provides all the furnishings – down to kitchen items.
Although the center – with assistance from its partner agencies including Gulfstream Goodwill Industries, Inc., the Homeless Coalition of Palm Beach County, Adopt-a-Family of the Palm Beaches and The Lord’s Place – helps clients get health insurance, find jobs and more, its main goal is to find them a place to live, Krieg explains.
The center has 60 beds on its campus for interim housing, but Krieg emphasizes, it is not a homeless shelter. “When people come in they are assessed to determine what brought them to homelessness, what keeps them there and what could help them end it. They can stay in our interim housing for 90 days. Our goal is for them to stay a much shorter time,” he says.
The project was an eye-opener for GL Homes officials.
“We learned how easy it is for people from all walks of life to find themselves homeless. We have also learned about the barriers to the homeless resuming what we consider to be normal lives,” says Norwalk about the Good Night’s Sleep initiative. “The level of support that institutions such as The Lewis Center provide is tremendous.”
For more information or to receive a referral to The Lewis Center, call 561-904-7900 or visit www.homelesscoalitionpbc.org.