I recently wrote of a dear Key West amiga who needs surgery and cannot afford it. She works at Harpoon Harry’s restaurant in Key West. The owner told me yesterday that people are dropping by and leaving donations for her surgery. All of his employees are in on it, put donations in an envelop for her. He said I could advertise that on my websites. Her first name is Kirsty. Meanwhile …
I turned in last night wondering what I would cover today? – I had no clue. The clue appeared before dawn, when I opened the Key West Citizen online and saw a report of last Thursday’s homeless conference in Monroe County’s Harvey Government Center in Key West, which I missed, forgot about, subconsciously did not want to attend, or whatever. Amazing. Also amazing, I don’t recall the angels beating me up in dreams about my missing it. Nor, did I hear from anyone about it yet. Whatever, here is the Citizen’s report, my interjected thoughts in italics:
Mayor pitches 24-hour shelter
Nonprofit leaders skeptical about funding for more comprehensive services
BY GWEN FILOSA Citizen Staff
Key West, a small island with a big-city sized homeless problem, doesn’t lack for nonprofits offering social services to the most vulnerable people who lay their heads down daily in one of the Southeast’s priciest housing markets.
Mayor Craig Cates, who for two years has been pushing for a 24-7 comprehensive homeless shelter on city-owned property along Stock Island’s College Road, recently courted some 30 such agencies.
Cates heard figures such as this:
Lower Keys Medical Center gave away $42 million in free treatment last year, said CEO Nicki Will. Of that, about $14 million was primary care to homeless men and women.
But no free treatment for Kirsty, who is a hard-working well-liked resident of Key West. But not a US citizen. She is married to one, though.
“We can’t force them to go to a shelter or a time out,” Will told the mayor, politely referencing the common fear that a 24-hour center may become the “Taj Mahal” for the nation’s homeless.
The public might view it as a Taj Mahal, but homeless people will have a variety of different perspectives. For example, just last night I happened upon a homeless man I have known since late 2000. Former US military Special Ops. He has a trade, which he often applied in Key West when he wants to make good money, but he quit applying the trade years ago. One of the most well-read, educated people I ever met. He sleeps outside. He seems content to sleep outside. He did not seem to recognize me yesterday, even after I told him my name, which he knows very well. He seemed to be in another world. He seemed on his last legs. Physically, perhaps mentally. He likes booze. A lot. But in the past, he was not always on it. I know of him being thrown out of the Green Parrot bar once, because he was so drunk. Not causing trouble, just oblivious. No way he pedals his rickity bicycle, with all of his possession heaped on it, to Stock Island. He will have to be apprehended and carried there, and how that might end up going, I will not hazard a guess.
“It already is,” Cates replied. “Right now, it is the perfect place to go. They live where they want. The city has to deal with all of them. We’re going to have a percentage that we’ll always have to care for at the shelter.”
Again, eye of the beholder. What Cates views as the perfect place for them to go, they will have their own view of it.
The mayor’s pitch: Key West can do better without breaking the bank, coddling wayfarers or remaining reliant on the police and Sheriff’s Office to double as a makeshift homeless outreach program that locks up men and women for public boozing or sleeping on the beaches at night.
“We all want the same thing,” Cates said Thursday in a crowded meeting room at the Harvey Government Center, 1200 Truman Ave. “We don’t want to be in the homeless business. We want to be able to help the nonprofits.”
This is not true, to say it as kindly as possible. What Cates wants is to get homeless people out of Key West, period, the end. Helping the non-profits has nothing to do with it. Furthermore, Cates wants the non-profits and the county government to help him pay for the Taj Mahal, which, no matter how Cates spins it, is intended, as was said, to get Key West’s homeless people out of Key West, into the Taj Mahal.
This was a first for the mayor, meeting with the Monroe County Coalition, which this year formed to become the Keys’ lead agency when it comes to landing and distributing federal and state money for homeless services.
And the mayor found himself under scrutiny from dozens of nonprofit leaders who work in the trenches of abject poverty and illness.
The Florida Keys Outreach Coalition (FKOC), AIDS Help, the Veterans Administration, MARC House, Helpline, Southernmost Homeless Assistance League (SHAL), Samuel’s House, Womankind, the state Department of Children and Families, Catholic Charities, the Guidance/Care Center, Salvation Army and Volunteers of America were among the nonprofits represented.
Cates, first elected in 2008, is seeking re-election Oct. 1 against a familiar opponent, Margaret Romero, who opposes the 24-hour shelter.
The mayor spent last year advocating stricter city laws, which were easily passed, that made it easier for police to arrest men and women drinking alcohol in public or sleeping in the parks and on beaches.
For Cates, 2013 has been all about moving toward a 24-hour homeless shelter to replace the current bunkhouse, the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter (KOTS), that provides a place to sleep and a shower for up to 140 people nightly.
The coalition meeting, led by the Rev. Steve Braddock, CEO of FKOC, began with a reading of the group’s mission statement, which includes the sentence, “Adequate housing is a basic human right.”
Key West will be hard-pressed to provide “adequate housing” for all of its homeless people who “graduate” from the Taj Mahal. Actually, it will be impossible for Key West to do that. Such housing necessarily will be subsidized, for Taj Mahal graduates, for the most part, will not be able to afford Key West’s sky-high market rate rents. Who will pay the subsidy? And, where will these market rate housing units be located? For they do not now exist. The Housing Authority already has a long waiting list. It will not be able to accommodate Taj Mahal graduates. I don’t see Key West building subsidized housing for Taj Mahal graduates on Truman Waterfront. Perhaps there is sufficient land next to the airport, off of Flagler Avenue. Perhaps there is sufficient land near Mary Star of the Sea soup kitchen on Flagler. But, who pays for the subsidized housing, wherever it might be built? Who pays to build it? Who pays to operate it? What, the city floats an “industrial revenue bond”? Backed by what “revenue stream”?
Cates found himself in the hot seat at times. Several in the room were critical of a recent report by hired consultant Robert Marbut that put the island’s unsheltered homeless population at nearly 2,000 — three times what the 2013 “Point-in-Time” volunteer-run census chalked up as the entire county’s homeless.
“This is a canned report to give you the data so you will build a shelter,” said the MARC House’s Diana Flenard, who called Marbut’s report shocking. “No offense, but these numbers don’t seem accurate. They’re a little inflated.”
Hmmm. If Marbut’s homeless numbers are off, either due to intentionally inflating them, or simply poor counting/guestimating, how can Cates and the City Commisson trust Marbut about other parts of this mission impossible? If the numbers were cooked, was Cates also in on it. I have yet to hear of him challenging Marbut’s homeless count.
Cates also got an earful about the nonprofit world’s shrinking financial resources matched by increasing needs.
Larry Prescott of the Guidance/Care Center told the mayor that his agency cannot provide free services at the city’s homeless shelter, as the going rate for some psychiatric services is $500 an hour.
Hearing the mayor say that the operations budget of the new 24-hour shelter would remain as it is today, about $440,000 a year, Prescott spoke up.
How can a new shelter, which will sleep at least twice as many homeless as the current shelter, KOTS, sleeps, still cost $440,000 a year to operate?
“All the rest of us are supposed to, out of the goodness of our hearts, provide free services?” he asked Cates. “We’re looking at a physical building with food.”
And services designed to try to help homeless people, who are addicts, which nearly all street homeless are, dry out and rehab. And, services designed to try to provide medical care to homeless with various medical problems, including MRSA, malnutrition, sleep deprivation, dehydration, diabetes, coronary artery disease, other medical infirmities. And, mental infirmities, which most street homeless have. Good luck keeping them on their meds, which they really do not like taking because of the awful side effects.
Cates said more than once during the meeting that he wasn’t asking the nonprofits to run the shelter. That’s the city’s job, he said, but the project would provide space for various nonprofits to meet with men and women in need of services.
Cates wants the non-profits to provide their services at no cost to the city.
Elmira Leto, who founded Samuel’s House, endorsed the mayor’s plan while acknowledging the agencies’ struggle for money.
“Craig, we need your help, the City Commission, the County Commission,” Leto said. “We have a crisis, not only in Key West, but throughout the nation. There is no other answer than we’ve got to get behind you. Divided we fall.”
There is no answer to this problem locally, nationally. The problem cannot be fixed, no matter how much money is thrown at it. Look only up US 1 at Miami, which has thrown wads of money at the problem, and it is not solved there. See the Miami Herald article in yesterday’s post at this website.
The city has signed on to build the shelter at the former Easter Seals property and take back the next-door building housing the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District headquarters.
City leaders haven’t pinned down costs to create the shelter, but Cates spent the hour at the conference table telling Florida Keys nonprofit directors the project is worth trying.
“It’s not warehousing them, by any means,” Cates said. “We need to have one location to help everyone and save the taxpayers money.”
I agree, it might be cheaper to put everything in one location. However, it will be warehousing for the most part. Graduates will have to move into subsidized housing, and they will need continued care for the most part. Or, they will be given one-way bus tickets to some place else, which seems to me to be how Cates intends to deal with the stark fact that there is no affordable housing in Key West for graduates from the Taj Mahal.
The shelter hasn’t been embraced by everyone in Key West.
City Commissioners Mark Rossi and Billy Wardlow aren’t convinced the city needs to replace KOTS, which is on the Sheriff’s Office property on College Road.
County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy of Key Largo has shown some disdain for the idea that the entire Keys needs to chip in for what many view as a Key West problem.
It IS a Key West problem. Cates is trying to convince Murphy and the rest of the county commissioners that it is a county problem. There are homeless people throughout the county, but only Cates wants to round them all up and put them in one place. That is the only reason this discussion is taking place.
Romero, a Conch, opposes a 24-hour homeless shelter, saying city government should not be in the social services business and is only legally obligated to provide temporary shelter.
Actually, the city is not legally obligated to provide anything, but if the city wishes to prevent homeless people from living outside, particularly camping, sleeping outside, it has to provide them with an alternative, which is the Pottinger case, which Miami provided when it used its police to try to run all of its homeless people out of Miami. The same federal court, which decided the Pottinger case, has jurisdiction over Key West.
“Key West is a 2-by-4 (mile) island,” she said Saturday. “People seem to be able to ride city buses and get to the services when they want them.”
With few exceptions, Key West homeless people can get to anywhere they want to go. Most of them get around on bicycles. The rest use city buses or walk. Some stick to one area they prefer, and do not get around the rest of the city.
In her campaign against Cates, Romero’s push cards — which dub her “the voice of reason” — list the shelter idea in her “no” column.
Romero said the city’s homeless problem needs addressing, but not through what she considers a vague, unfunded plan for a 24-hour homeless shelter “with air-conditioning and lockers” that could attract even more homeless.
I would like to see Romero put in writing how she would address the city’s homeless problem. if I had to hazard a guess, her method would be to put them all in jail, if they do not accept one-way bus tickets to some place on the mainland.
So for Thursday’s meeting, Cates brought backup.
Police Chief Donie Lee, who also attended the hourlong sit-down, along with City Manager Bob Vitas, said the island’s homeless problem is moving in only one direction.
“We’re seeing more homeless come in and they need more services,” said Lee. “What we’re doing now is not working.”
So, Chief Lee, do something that costs more money, perhaps a lot more money, not knowing how it will work, but knowing for a fact that Key West does not have the affordable housing needed to absorb graduates from the Taj Mahal? Which brings me back to the one-way bus ticket idea, which has been tried before, and it did not work. Then, you have other cities using the one-way bus ticket method to send homeless elsewhere, including Key West, a national homeless destination of choice because of its fair weather in the winter, beaches and waterfronts, and soup kitchen and other homeless services. A Taj Majal will make Key West even more attractive to homeless people on the mainland.
The city is not going to open a 24-hour homeless center without installing some structure, Lee said.
“This center is based on rules, structure, case management and incentives,” Lee said. “This is the only way it will work.”
I’m sorry, Chief Lee, but you have no clue if it will work. The only way to find out if it will work is to build the Taj Mahal and see how it goes. You, Mayor Cates, others involved, do not address the lack of affordable housing for graduates from the Taj Majal. You know that is an insurmountable bottleneck, unless your exit strategy is to deport them to the mainland. The exit strategy sort of reminds me of G.W. Bush’s Iraq and Afghanistan exit strategies.
Joe Pais, a former city commissioner and AIDS Help administrator, said there are sources of funding available to tap.
Right now, Pais said, the Keys are spending several million dollars a year on social services for the homeless, not including what is spent by law enforcement and other services, such as the company that cleans the beaches.
“I’m not sure the taxpayers of Key West are getting a good deal — or the homeless,” said Pais. “We can’t keep doing what we’re doing right now.”
So, do more than we are doing now, which you say you are not sure is a good deal for the taxpayers of Key West?
Sheriff Rick Ramsay hasn’t committed his department to the 24-hour shelter project, and neither has the County Commission, Cates noted.
And neither should commit. This is Cates’ project, for Key West. The Sheriff and Monroe County should be fully reimbursed by Key West for any services the Sheriff or the County provide to Key West. The rest of the taxpayers in the County should not pay one penny for Cates’ Key West homeless project.
The next steps include sitting down with county leaders in an effort to convince them that Key West’s new homeless plan is a better bet than leaving the jail to spend millions a year taking care of men and women with nowhere to stay.
“The county knows they are part of the solution,” Cates said.
Indeed, and what the County Commission and the Sheriff should do is tell Cates to build his own jail for his city’s homeless people. It is not right for the rest of the county taxpayers to pay for Cates’ and Key West’s homeless policy, which policy is unique to Key West in the Florida Keys.
The 24-hour shelter is on its way, the mayor said. A 2011 lawsuit by Sunset Marina trying to move KOTS is headed toward a settlement, predicated on the city relocating its homeless center.
I remember Cates saying there was no merit to the Sunset Marina lawsuit. Now, he is citing the lawsuit as legal authority for the city building a homeless Taj Majal. Not mentioned, the same lawyer representing Sunset Marina, also represents the golf course community, which has threatened litigation if the Taj Mahal is built at the Easter Seals/Mosquito Control properties next to the golf course.
KOTS will remain open until its larger, 24-hour replacement opens, Cates assured the room.
“If it doesn’t work, it’s not the end of the world,” Cates said. “We’re fine with changes if something is not working. It can’t be 100 different opinions on how do you do everything or it will never get done. “
Sounds to me like throwing money at something you are hoping but are not sure will work, while you know there is no affordable housing in Key West for graduates from the Taj Mahal, if there are graduates. How come Cates, Donnie Lee, the non-profits, etc. don’t talk about the exit strategy for graduates from the Taj Mahal? I see no exit strategy. Zip. Nada. Other than one-way bus tickets to somewhere on the mainland. If word gets out that Key West is doing that, you can pretty well count on cities throughout Florida and elsewhere on the mainland reciprocating.
Ginger of Jupiter Beach, Florida wrote yesterday:
Chinese curse: MAY YOU LIVE IN INTERESTING TIMES
Sloan, Ask not whether there is a homeless situation, but WHY there is a homeless situation. There was poverty and homelessness in NYC in the 1840′s or 1880′s I believe, then again during the GREAT DEPRESSION. That homelessness was due to loss of jobs. Now HOMELESSNESS appears to be due to drugs, alcohol and economic problems. unfortunately 700,000 KIDS RE BORN EACH YEAR from mother’s w ho have drug and alcohol problems. After 30 years, that’s about 21,000 million children with emotional and mental problems. Then some of them create more progeny. In ancient times, the homeless would have been working on farms, cleaning out stables, yes…meaningless jobs in most cases. But everyone was employed in the 1600′s, or they didn’t eat or survive.
So what happens when a country has 30 million people unemployed, off the grid, depending on the government or “the kindness of strangers” to survive. Yet still multiplying.
The Earth’s population is destroying the world with garbage, huge demand for food that is now stripping the oceans of their food supply and fish, destroying the source of the food chain, KRILL. Yes, we can keep continuing to supply enough food, but we are destroying the land and using up the water. WATER will be a key issue in another 10 to 15 years. So move where you can drill your own well! Perhaps North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia highlands, South Carolina, Florida. Problem with Florida is if you take too much ground water out, you get sink holes.
Virginia in Jupiter.
Hi, Ginger -
There are a variety of reasons for homelessness, but I don’t see it matters what the causes are, the condition exists and it might get worse and even if it doesn’t get worse I don’t see what can be done about it. I told the Key West City Commission quite a few times in the early 2000s that only God can change street people. I still see it that way.
I have no solutions for the US social-economic problem. The US is so in debt, and so addicted to spending money it does not have, by printing new money, which the Government calls borrowing, but when you can’t pay it back, it’s printing new money, that I see no way it ever will be fixed and it looks to me like a question of when, not if, the whole thing will just stop working altogether.
If I worried about stuff like that, I suppose I would go insane. I see it, I size it up, I discuss it, I might even write about it, but I don’t worry about it, because there simply is nothing I can do about it.
I wrote to Erika Biddle today that it seems a cruel joke to be trying to save what little is left of the reef down here. At most 5 percent remains, maybe it’s only 3 percent. I write about it, but I don’t see how what I write will made any difference. Probably more important now, try to save what’s left of the Everglades, which Uncle Sam, Tallahassee and Big Sugar seem determined to kill like they already killed nearly all of the reef with Big Sugar’s chemicals.
I don’t see how what I write about anything makes a difference, and I don’t expect it to make a difference. I’d get ulcers, go insane, if I expected to make a difference. I keep writing into this and that because the angels tell me to keep at it, and crossing the angels is not something I wish to ever do, after several very rough experiences following my not doing their bidding.
They own me, that was the price for receiving their help and my being used to serve humanity. I truly am just their pack donkey, or work mule, now. It’s not something that can be understood, unless it’s happening to you. And then it’s understood all too well.
I agree, though, these are interesting times in which we live. I’d just as soon not be here to experience any more of it, but I am here experiencing it.
On the international front, from GS11, sometimes persecuted whistleblower: