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.

Courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum
An earlier view of migrant worker housing near Belle Glade. By Marion Post Wolcott, 1939.
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.

Follow The Juice on Twitter: @TheJuiceBPB.

Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help

I don't know what the correct or incorrect information might be but the deplorable conditions of the kids is a fact.  Just go and see them they have no shoes they live in trailors that are in terrible conditions.  I don't know all the answers but there is a need in that place and no report or facts can erase it.


The home or fishing shack or whatever you would like to call it looks cool. Wonder who owns that neat looking car in the back ground. I may have a room with free rent for a year, in exchange for the antique auto. I hope this was not a poised photo to prove a point.


Please publish the correct information with regard to migrant housing in Palm Beach County and in particular Belle Glade. The Health Department was approached with a records request from WPTV channel 5 for 31 properties in Belle Glade. From the list submitted only seven met the criteria as migrant housing under the Florida Administrative Code 64E-14 and are licensed and inspected by the Palm Beach County Health Department. The remaining buildings are inspected and regulated by the City of Belle Glade and or the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and classified as apartments or rooming houses. The migrant camp and migrant housing rules state, "minor children can only live in a unit with private bathing and toilet facilities." Two of the seven buildings regulated by the Health Department and mentioned above are rooming houses with communal lavatory facilities and as such are adults only. Children do not live there. The remaining 24 buildings do not fall under the Health Department's regulatory authority and child restrictions. Unfortunately, WPTV chose to show one of these buildings that permits children and attributed it to the Health Department as you too did in your article. Currently, there are 7 Migrant Labor Camps and 37 Residential Migrant Housing facilities permitted in Palm Beach County with a total capacity of 6,599 people. The Health Department continues to monitor, inspect and enforce the rules in place for migrant housing. Since the early 80's sugar cane has been harvested mechanically and eliminated the 10,000+ migrant cane cutters that used to stay in Belle Glade every season. Tim O'ConnorPalm Beach County Health Department


But the Fanjul family resides in Palm Beach mansions. Does anyone expect them to adjust their lifestyle to accommodate the peasants?


Hello Lpellegrino,Can you please contact me.  Wondering if you can help. I am in Brooklyn, NY and I am researching a project about poverty in "hidden America." I would like to find a way to meet some of the families and children within Belle Grade camp/ Muck city. best,

Now Trending

Miami Concert Tickets

From the Vault