Belle Glade Commissioner Speaks Up About "Slum Living Conditions" for Poorest Workers
Belle Glade is a small outpost nestled among the cane fields near the southeastern shore of Lake Okeechobee. "Muck City," as it's also called, houses a large number of the low-wage workers who tend the fields and produce America's largest supply of sugar cane.
An earlier view of migrant worker housing near Belle Glade. By Marion Post Wolcott, 1939.
Courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum
Some of those workers live in deplorable conditions. Now Belle Glade Commissioner William Grear says that "the people deserve better" than what he describes as "slum living conditions."
He identified 28 buildings that have communal bathrooms for the residents -- many of which are meant for migrant workers and are not supposed to house children, according to a Palm Beach County Health Department spokesman.
WPTV went to visit some of the worker-housing units and found filthy bathrooms -- always dependable for evening news footage -- as well as a little girl doing homework in a nearby corridor. The girl's mother, Lelee McCauley, told reporters that she's scared to let her daughter go to the communal restroom, so "I let her use the bucket," rinsing it out in a sink that's also shared among all the residents.
Grear says that around 2,000 people live in buildings with communal bathrooms, and nearly a third of them are children.
Migrant, immigrant, and other low-wage workers are a key part of the sugar-cane business, which is one of the most important but most hidden economies in South Florida. Grear says the city has formed committees to figure out how to build newer, cleaner worker housing -- and he urges the landlords to provide better conditions. It's unclear whether the city will back that up with possible legal action.
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