Citizens of Key West, I would like to clear the air on some misinformation about the homeless shelter I have been proposing. It’s not the mayor’s shelter. It is Key West’s shelter for the homeless. Anyone that has been in Key West since 2000 knows what it was like before KOTS overnight shelter was built. The homeless were camping in tents and cardboard huts on the boulevard, by the beach, in our parks and all over Key West. The police could not do anything about them because we did not have a shelter. So KOTS was built and we were able to move them from those locations.
Actually, it was in early 2004, after Key West ordered homeless people to stop camping in the mangroves, that they started camping in tents and cardboard huts on the boulevard across from Smathers Beach and on the city side of Higgs Beach. I was one of the homeless ordered out of the mangroves, and was told by Assistant City Manager John Jones to move my tent to the Bridle Path, across from Smathers Beach. That continued until KOTS was built later that year. KOTS was not nearly big enough to sleep all of Key West’s homeless. KOTS still is not nearly big enough.
When I ran as mayor the first time, I said I would address the homeless issue in
Key West and I have not wavered. I started a homeless committee and discussed issues and solutions. The meetings were open to the public and minutes were taken. The need to improve the homeless shelter to become more efficient and effective was noted.
I might have been the first person Mayor Cates asked to be on his homeless committee, in the fall of 2009. He asked me at his campaign victory party, right after thanking me for getting him elected without a runoff. I said, sure, I would be glad to be on his committee. Never heard from him again. Never was invited to attend any of his committee meetings. Same thing pretty much happened to Father Stephen Braddock, who heads up Florida Keys Outreach Coalition, which at that time was running KOTS for the city. Mayor Cates did not want Steve or me at his homeless committee meetings, even though we knew more about the subject, by far, than people who were on the committee.
The idea of the mobile unit came up also. SHAL received a grant to purchase the motorhome and the city helped fund its operational cost. Case workers are able to go to the homeless that would not come out of the encampments and help them get the services they need, such as getting identification so they can receive state and federal assistance and help them get in contact with family to return to their hometowns. We passed stricter camping ordinances, stricter rules to protect our parks and passed no-panhandling zones. But as much as we have done, we still have a huge issue.
Some of them might want to return to their hometowns and families, some of them definitely do not wan to do that. They ran away from their hometowns and families, and want nothing further to do with them. I told Mayor Cates back then that the motorhome would not solve the big issue. He had invited me to be on his homeless advisory committee, so I advised him about homeless issues without his asking for my advice.
Where we are today is KOTS has been challenged by a lawsuit that we may or
may not win. The facility is on the sheriff’s property, where they may or may not
renew our lease. The sheriff tells us what hours it can operate, from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. with no one allowed at the shelter during the day. So, everyone leaves and are on the streets all day looking for food, drinks and just hanging out all over town. Then they are fed on Flagler at the soup kitchen or take handouts throughout town. At the end of the day they try to make it back to KOTS that opens at 6 p.m. They must arrive before 9:30 p.m. or they are not allowed
in. Many just sleep wherever they can.
To be proactive and not wait until we are forced to leave the sheriff’s property with nowhere to go, I proposed a shelter on the city’s property at Easter Seals. We know the city needs at the bare minimum an overnight shelter.
The same lawyer, Bart Smith, who filed that lawsuit for Sunset Marina, represents the golf course community, and has threatened to file suit for that community, if Key West tries to put the new, bigger, 24-hour KOTS at the Easter Seals property. Recently, the golf course community Board of Directors wrote to Mayor Cates and the City Commission, saying don’t put the new shelter beside the golf course. Is Mayor Cates not listening to them? I remember him telling me the Sunset Marina lawsuit had no merit and the city would easily win it. I agree, the city needs a basic overnight shelter, which is a far cry from what Mayor Cates has been promoting, which is a 24-hour full-service homeless rehab shelter.
I proposed the city selling the property to the Monroe County Land Authority,
which collects sales tax in Key West to buy property for affordable housing. Then returning the property back to Key West with a deed restriction that it will always be used for affordable housing. What is more basic affordable housing
than whether you stay at the shelter or you’re homeless? Use the money from the sale to build the shelter with no money coming out of the city taxpayer’s pockets.
Huh? Don’t the county taxpayers fund the Monroe County Land Authority? Once again, get the county taxpayers to pay for Key West homeless policy? Does Mayor Cates truly believe it is the county taxpayers’ job to pay for his and Key West’s homeless policy, when Key West is a separate municipality, and when the county does not treat county homeless people the way Key West treats city homeless people?
When the shelter is no longer needed, another type of housing could be built
When the shelter is no longer needed? After a Category 5 hurricane removes every last person from Key West and Stock Island? After the Second Coming?
The purpose of the 24-hour shelter is they don’t have to leave in the morning to wander the streets all day.
Many of them will wander the streets anyway. It will be a lot easier for them to wander the streets, not having to carry all their belongings with them.
At the shelter, social services could come to them, they will have less chance to get sick so the hospital won’t have indigent care cost of $14 million that has been stated by the hospital, which we all end up paying for.
Many of them already are sick. Put them altogether in a compound, they will give infectious diseases to each other. The really sick ones will end up in the hospital anyway. Who will pay for the social services? County taxpayers? Non-profits funded by county, state, US taxpayers? Churches?
Instead of taking them to jail for the municipal ordinance offenses, we could
take them to the shelter. This would save our Police Department valuable time
because it takes about two hours to make an arrest. It would also save the sheriff the cost of incarceration, which is paid for by the city and county taxpayers.
Mayor Cates, you and your police are the reason the Sheriff and the hospital and the city and county taxpayers are paying for Key West’s homeless policy.
There will be an outside covered area if they are intoxicated and inside area like we have now at KOTS if they are not intoxicated and behave.
The soup kitchen has agreed to feed the homeless at the shelter and close the facility on Flagler. The idea is to feed them at the shelter so they have to come there and also not allow them to camp on the streets, but give them the option to go to the shelter or jail if they are breaking the law.
The law against living outside, sleeping outside. That’s the Pottinger case, which forced Key West to build KOTS, which was not nearly large enough to sleep all of Key West’s homeless, so the Pottinger case was not satisfied. If the new homeless shelter is large enough to sleep all of Key West’s homeless, not on any drawing board I have heard about, that will satisfy the Pottinger case. Such a shelter will have to be at least twice as big as what I have heard proposed for the Easter Seals property. At least 600 beds for homeless living outside and in vehicles.
If a person is in jail, the jail has the responsibility for their medical needs. The sheriff spent over $1 million for the homeless last year, but at the shelter we won’t have that responsibility. They have a location to keep their belongings when they try to find a job without having to carry everything they own on their back or hide it in the bushes. We will not allow them to sleep on the streets or live in the mangroves because we will have a location to take them 24 hours a day.
Not based on the size of the new shelter you currently propose. Double its size to 600 beds, and you might be able to sleep all of them at night and legally jail them, if they don’t go there to sleep.
We know that many homeless want the opportunity to get back on their feet but
we also know about 25 to 30 percent have addictions and mental issues that they may never overcome. The ones with the addictions will never get into some of the great programs for housing that the nonprofits provide.
Non-profits like Florida Keys Outreach Coalition, whom, via Father Stephen Braddock, you did not want on your homeless advisory committee. Non-profits which have nowhere close to the beds to accommodate the homeless leaving a city homeless shelter. Where are they going to live after they leave a city homeless shelter? Where are they going to live, if they never leave the city shelter? In the shelter? You don’t like KOTS now, and you are talking about building a much bigger KOTS?
Unfortunately, the community and police still have to deal with that percentage. Because Key West has enabled them in the past with our kindness and generosity, the problem continues and could increase.
About 90 percent of long-term homeless are addicts. Put them in a shelter, keep them there, they will go into the DTs and require medical intervention. After you dry them out, clean them up, you have to worry about relapse. Eventually, 95 percent of dried out addicts relapse, according to AA and NA old-timers.
I believe the shelter should be basic protection from the elements. I believe
we should have a committee decide what other amenities a shelter should have.
We must work together with Sheriff Ramsay, the hospital, the Monroe County
Health Department, the nonprofits and the County Commission to address this
issue, which is not just a Key West issue, it’s everyone’s issue. I Believe One Human Family is more than a bumper sticker.
Actually, Mayor Cates, what you believe is homeless people should not be seen or heard in Key West, and your homeless shelter, it is yours, nobody else in the city pushed for it, is your attempt to get homeless people out of sight and sound.