Kevin Deutsch, Gretel Sarmiento and Lona O’Connor, Palm Beach Post, March 12, 2008
A crowd of more than 500 people waiting for hours this morning for housing voucher applications were dispersed by police in riot gear at the Boca Raton Housing Authority when the applications ran out sooner than expected.
Two people were arrested and six to eight people hospitalized for exhaustion during the ordeal.
Hundreds of people, mostly mothers who had spent more than eight hours in line, were forced to leave the property at 2333 W. Glades Road by 30 Boca Raton Police officers, including SWAT team members, who walked toward the crowd in unison holding their police shields up about 10:30 a.m.
The overwhelming turnout of people desperate for housing money came as little surprise to Suzanne Cabrera, president of the Housing Leadership Council of Palm Beach County.
“This is an indication that housing it’s still a huge problem,” Cabrera said this afternoon. “It’s a reflection of people’s concern for housing, their uncertainty. I got people today asking me: was this my last chance to get housing I can afford?”
Several other things, such as mortgage foreclosures and high gas prices, are contributing to that feeling of insecurity and desperation, she said.
So whenever word gets out that voucher applications are being handed out, which she said doesn’t happen very often, people get full of hope.
By 10 a.m. the crowd had swelled to more than 500 people, with most unaware that the bulk of applications had already been passed out.
The parking lot was a mass of women nursing crying babies, pushing strollers and waiting anxiously for officials to give them information.
People grew agitated. Several fights broke out. Police and firefighters said they were prepared if things were to turn violent on a large scale. Nearly 50 firefighters and paramedics from the city, county and Delray Beach set up across the street in the Town Center mall parking lot.
Then an official came out of the housing authority building and announced through a megaphone that disabled people should come forward.
Instead, the entire crowd surged forward. People fell down and were close to being trampled, witnesses said.
Most of the crowd disagreed.
“We’re all working people and we’re all bitter right now,” said Deborah Davis, 37. “To be turned away like this hurts.”
People in the line said they came overnight, from as far away as Riviera Beach and Pahokee, to apply for the housing subsidy.
Shayla Williams, 22, of West Palm Beach, was angered by the police tactics.
“This place is going to get shot up later,” she yelled to officers. “They can’t treat us like this.”