Commissioners Shelley Vana, Priscilla Taylor and Melissa McKinlay were among those in attendance Monday night for the annual assembly for the grassroots organization PEACE (People Engaged in Active Community Efforts).
An estimated crowd of 3,000 gathered at the Palm Beach County Convention Center. During the 90-minute gathering, members of the organization provided updates on past topics such as the arrests of juvenile offenders and undocumented immigrants facing arrest for driving without a license. Meanwhile, addressing homelessness was added to this year’s agenda.
During Monday night’s assembly, the commissioners in attendance were asked if they would work with PEACE to secure a dedicated source of funding specifically for programs to help homeless families and individuals. Vana, Taylor and McKinlay all said they would.
Recent statistics show a 35 percent increase in the number of homeless individuals, according to the PEACE organization.
Jill Hanson, of St. Peter Catholic Church in Palm Beach Gardens, pointed to efforts in other states to provide homeless individuals with stable housing.
“The main thing has been … house people first and then you can deal with all the problems they have,” Hanson said. “We’re trying to get a dedicated stream of funding for a rapid re-housing program so that we can be out there with other entities that have actually succeeded in ending homelessness.”
In an effort to reduce arrests for juvenile offenders, the group also has pushed for state lawmakers to pass a bill that would expand the use of civil citations for juvenile offenders in place of arrests. Chief Assistant State Attorney Alan Johnson, attending in place of State Attorney Dave Aronberg — who is on a trip to China — said the office will look further into the matter.
Rev. Robert Rease of St. John First Baptist Church told those gathered the bill could prevent over 12,000 each year from being arrested for first-time and misdemeanor offenses.
“We will not rest, will not stop, until we have (a) civil citation bill in Florida,” he said. “Our children deserve a second chance.
In recent years, the group has pushed for law-enforcement agencies to stop arresting undocumented immigrants who don’t have a driver’s license and to accept other forms of identification such as consular identifications. The group asked commissioners Monday if they will give funding for a nonprofit to administer a community ID program for those who cannot obtain identification through regular channels, including those from countries that don’t provide consular IDs.
Members of the organization said that another issue is that drivers with an expired license are treated harsher than those who have never had a license.
“We’re asking the State Attorney to treat driving with a license that was suspended the same way that they treat driving without a license,” Hanson said.
Members of the organization met with Aronberg about the issue recently, but no final decisions have been made, she said.