> For many migrant families, no place to stay in Palm Beach County
> By CINDY GLOVER, [Ft. Lauderdale] Sun-Sentinel
> Web-posted: 12:53 p.m. Aug. 24, 2000
> The season is approaching in western Palm Beach County.
> No, not the one marked by snowbirds, cultural events and charity functions.
> It's the one that draws about 10,000 migrant farm workers to the
> Agricultural Reserve starting in September, when fields are cleared
> and planted. It picks up in mid-October, when the first batches of
> peppers and eggplants ripen, peaks in January and February when
> winter crops are ready for harvesting, and ends in March when the
> produce has been packed.
> The Ag Reserve, a 20,500-acre island of agriculture floating in a
> sea of suburbia west of Delray Beach and Boynton Beach, is the first
> stop for many of the Hispanics and Caribbean islanders who come to
> South Florida.
> Work is plentiful in the landscape nurseries and sandy vegetable
> fields where tomatoes, green peppers and zucchini flourish and where
> most of the nation's parsley, endive, radishes, eggplant and sweet
> corn are grown.
> But affordable housing is another story.
> In 1970, 40 labor camps provided temporary housing in the
> southern part of the county. Less than a third of that number exist
> today, as development has swallowed large tracts of land along U.S.
> 441. The few camps that remain usually have single-men-only
> policies and long waiting lists.
> "Housing is a big problem ... every year we have less and less,"
> said Caridad Asensio, president and founder of the Migrant
> Association of South Florida and its no-cost Caridad Health Clinic.
> Asensio, a native of Cuba, has spent the past 25 years as an
> advocate for Palm Beach County's migrant workers and their families,
> many of whom are here illegally.
> Every few days, she takes her sport-utility vehicle over dirt roads to
> visit ramshackle settlements and mobile homes where "the lucky
> ones" are bunked down.
> Maybe one in 10 workers finds shelter in camps, with friends and
> relatives, or piled with other migrants into squalid, overpriced
> apartments or motel rooms, Asensio estimates.
> "Nobody wants to rent to migrants," she said. "Apartments, very
> small and run-down, they make them pay $700 a month or more."
> The rest take up a vagrant-like existence in the woods, sleeping in
> cars or under sheets of plastic tied to trees, she said. "It's very bad.
> Places ... you don't even want to see it."
> Asensio dreams of the day the government, a philanthropist or a
> nonprofit organization steps in with a sweeping solution to the
> housing crisis.
> In the meantime, two small-scale efforts are chipping away at the
> problem one family at a time.
> Asensio has purchased or persuaded people to donate 169 mobile
> homes during the past decade. She and her volunteers have
> refurbished the trailers and then given them -- keys, deed and all --
> to migrant families in the Ag Reserve.
> "There are so many things we take for granted," Asensio said. "A
> shower, dinner, a bed. ... The trailers aren't a permanent house, but
> it has a good floor, a good bathroom and electricity."
> She said several families have been able to save money, sell the
> trailers and, using the proceeds, move into brick-and-mortar homes
> of their own.
> And west of Delray Beach, at the end of a trail called Half-Mile
> Road, is In The Pines, a 5-acre settlement that was built in the 1960s
> and is shielded by stately evergreens.
> Thirty-two families live in weather-beaten, two-bedroom apartments
> with low rents: $275 a month without air conditioning or $330 with air
> Although the complex is downtrodden, it is considered the best in
> South Florida because it is run by a cooperative that offers free
> medical care, advocacy programs and, perhaps most important,
> on-site day care.
> The Junior League of Boca Raton and the Redlands Christian
> Migrant Association began pushing for the day-care center in 1988
> after a tragedy at the camp. A 3-year-old child who had to go to the
> fields with his parents because they had nowhere to put him was run
> over by a tractor and died.
> The center opened in 1992 and serves about 70 children
> Now the two organizations have embarked on another project:
> raising $3 million to bulldoze apartments and replace them with 40
> new, larger units.
> "When this was built, it was intended for single men. Most of these
> families have three or more kids," said Judy Burleson, president of
> the volunteer In The Pines board of directors.
> Burleson said two years of feverish fund-raising has yielded $1.5
> million, and the board hopes that pending grant applications will bring
> in the rest by October.
> "Once we've got the money, we can start immediately and be done
> with construction in two years," she said.
> The old units will be torn down in phases, she said, and some
> families will be displaced for a while.
> "We're going to have to relocate them and that's going to be hard,
> because we haven't found those apartments or motel rooms just yet,"
> she said. "But it's going to be a lot better when we're done."
> For more information or to contribute, call the Migrant Association of
> South Florida at 561-737-6336 or In The Pines at 561-495-0089.
> Cindy Glover can be reached at cglover at sun-sentinel.com or