a brief look at homelessness in Key West, by an ex-lawyer who was homeless there

KOTS

evening check in at KOTS, Key West’s present overnight homeless shelter

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On Facebook yesterday:

Bob Kelly

Robert Emmet Kelly
Key West, FL ·
“If it is not right, do not do it. If it is not true, do not say it.” – Marcus Aurelius: Warrior Emperor of Rome, Ethicist and Philosopher, 121 – 180 A.D.

Yesterday from a homeless man I saved maybe eight months ago from an aggressive Key West police officer, by finding the man a place to lay down his head that night; later I said I’d give him a one-way bus ticket out of here, with some traveling money, anytime he wanted it:

Sloan,

How is your campaign?

How much notice would you need for a ticket out of here?

Do you know of anyone who may have some small roon to rent?

Tom

I replied:

Am running against two rather popular candidates, and am being given plenty of wood to chip and water to carry, by the angels. Tomorrow’s post will be about KW homeless policy and history.

Not much notice needed for bus ticket, a day probably.

Don’t know of any small rooms in KW for rent. Florida Keys Outreach Coalition about as cheap as you can get, without getting a Housing Authority apartment based on your income.

Yesterday’s  late Christmas presents for Key West, mostly, compliments Erika Biddle, Shirley Freeman, Naja Girard, Kelly Friend & Associates post at this website began:

Key West amiga Erika Biddle,

Erika Biddle FB

who is about as unreligious as anyone I know, came to me in a dream last night and told me a woman I was trying to get more intimately acquainted with in my dreams earlier last night, who had seemed distracted with other things, was busy making Christmas presents. I replied, it’s May, I have lots of stuff to do, Christmas is too far off for me to be worrying myself over.

That dream wended into my reporting yesterday that I bumped into Kelly Friend

Kelly Friend

at Salute Sunday evening, and some of her and my ensuing conversation, and my concluding Kelly was the the lady making Christmas presents.

Two very busy, very heavy nap dreams yesterday afternoon, involving Father Stephen Braddock, CEO of Florida Keys Outreach Coalition (FKOC), which gives down and out men and women another chance,

Father Stephen Braddock

was trying to get something done in a situation in which I was heavily involved. I awoke remembering I had spaced out including in yesterday’s post something Kelly had said to me about Mayor Cates, Margaret Romero, who recently filed to run for mayor, and City Commissioner Tony Yaniz.

Mayor CatesMargaret RomeroTony Yaniz 2

Kelly said she was hearing Mayor Cates was losing votes to Margaret, because he had tried to be kinder to homeless people, and had tried to get them a bigger, nicer homeless shelter where they could have a chance to turn their lives around.

I said, actually, where Craig got in dutch politically was he brought in Robert Marbut

Robert Marbut

from San Antonio, Texas, and paid him $20,000 to consult with us on our homeless problems, which Father Steven Braddock and I could and would have done for free, if we had been asked, but we weren’t asked. Craig wanted to hear from people who would tell him what he wanted to hear, and he knew Steve and I would not do that. So Craig surrounded himself with people who knew little, if anything, about homeless people, who would tell him what he wanted to hear.

I said, Marbut knew something about homeless people, due to programs he had started for them, but he knew nothing about Key West’s homeless situation. He came down here and told us, wow, he’d never seen a city with so many homeless people from other places! Wow, we already knew that. We already knew Key West was a homeless destination. It’s a destination for a lot of people living here, who didn’t want to live where they were any longer.

I said, after Marbut wowed a big audience in Old City Hall, I got him off to the side and asked what was his turn around rate for homeless people? He said 90 percent. I asked if they still lived in his shelters? No, they moved on to other living accommodations. I asked, were they paying the rent and buying their own groceries? Well, the new living accommodations were subsidized. And Veterans could not be made to use their benefits to pay rent.

Kelly nodded, like, hmmm, Marbut’s homeless graduates were not back in mainstream; like, what was that costing to house and feed them, instead of letting them be homeless?

I said, I got that out of Marbut in two minutes, after he had wowed the audience and Mayor Cates and other city officials for quite a while, and they didn’t ask him one question that needed to be asked, because they didn’t know the terrain and didn’t know what questions to ask. I said, Steve Braddock and I could have gotten the city to where it now is in just a little while, if Mayor Cates had listened to us.

Kelly and I then were interrupted by a friend of hers, which ended that conversation.

Margaret Romero and Tony Yaniz have for some time strongly opposed the kind of homeless shelter Mayor Cates wants to establish in Key West. However, my recollection is there was a time when Tony was with Craig on bringing in Marbut and paying him $20,000.

To enter FKOC’s residence shelter program, clients have to be sober and have clean urine, they have to attend 12 step meetings and stay sober and have clean urine while they are in the program. FKOC does random urine tests and a client caught with dirty urine is immediately expelled from the program regardless of time of day or night, or weather.

About a year ago, during citizen comments at a city commission meeting, I told Mayor Cates and the city commissioners that they should not mingle homeless addicts with homeless people who did not use. I said, it is common knowledge in recovery programs and clinics that you do not mix active users with sober recovering addicts. I said, the city needed two shelters, one for each homeless population.

At a later city commission meeting, I said, when Mayor Cates was elected in 2009, I was the first person he asked to be on his Mayor’s Homeless Advisory Committee. That happened at his victory party at Camile’s, right after he and his campaign manager both thanked me for getting him elected without a runoff. I never heard another word from Craig about his homeless advisory committee, and much the same happened to Steve Braddock.

I said, Steve and I remain the city’s advisers on homeless people, Steve because of what he does, I because I lived on the street in Key West, and went through Steve’s program, and stayed at the city’s overnight shelter, KOTS, and I know the law regarding homelessness. I said, I remain available to advise the city re homeless people, for free. I’ll meet with any commissioners and the mayor one on one. (Only City Commissioner Teri Johnston later would take me up on that offer.)

My time was up, I turned to leave the speaker’s station. Tony Yaniz said he wanted to speak to me, please return to the speaker’s station. I went back to the speaker’s station. There had been considerable earlier discussion about where to put a new homeless shelter in the city, and there also had been considerable discussion about NIMBY – not in my back yard.

Tony said, since I was an expert on homeless issues, where did I say was the best place for them to put the new city’s homeless shelter? It was asked roughly, Tony was puffed up. I said, there is no good place in the city. Tony said, again roughly, puffed up, that’s no solution! I said, there is no good solution; I’m not going to stand before you and make something up. Tony dismissed me in a huff.

At a later city commission meeting, I said, it will be insane to put a new homeless shelter on the Easter Seals property, next to a county nursing home and on the other side of that the city’s popular botanical garden, and just down the other way an elementary school, and right next to the city’s championship golf course.

I said, some homeless people are truly dangerous. Most of them are addicts. Many are mentally ill. The only safe and sane place for a new homeless shelter is on the Sheriff’s land, where KOTS now is. Homeless people tend to act better near the presence of law enforcement.

I said, the city needs its own drunk tank, where it puts its drunk homeless people for the rest of day and night, then lets them out the next morning. The city is killing the Sheriff and the hospital by putting homeless people there, because homeless people cost more to house and treat than other people, and the Sheriff and hospital never get paid back for homeless people. But that’s what the city police are doing, putting the city’s homeless addicts in either the jail or the hospital, even using private ambulances to carry them to the hospital.

I said, the city needs to give the Sheriff incentive to want to let the city’s homeless shelter remain on the Sheriff’s land, and not putting the city’s addicts in his jail would be a lot of incentive.

My time was up. The citizen audience burst into applause.

At the next city commission meeting, the City Clerk announced, henceforth, to help city commission meetings go faster and more smoothly, there could be no citizen applause for citizen speakers. Nothing was said about there being no citizen applause for people receiving awards, or for what the mayor and city commissioners said.

To this day, I wonder if the new applause rule would have been implemented, if I were not running for mayor? I was getting lots of applause for what I said during citizen comments on other issues before the City Commission.

It is my opinion that Mayor Craig Cates should have recused himself from having anything to do with the city’s homeless policy and a new shelter.

Shortly after Craig was elected in 2009, one of his daughters, pulling her car out onto North Roosevelt Blvd at Checkers, ran over a homeless man on his bicycle. It proved fatal. The newspaper reports, and all else I heard, left me feeling it was the homeless man’s fault; he had lurched out in front of the car.

I heard Craig’s daughter was disheveled and having a really hard time; it had messed up her life, and her family’s life, too. I called Craig and said I was so sorry, and since I had been homeless, and since I knew about grief and healing, I’d be happy to meet with his daughter and maybe I could help her move though it. Craig thanked me, said he would talk it over with his family. Later, he told me they would not need my help.

After that was when I saw a new Craig when it came to homeless people. A Craig I had not seen during the 2009 mayoral, when I was getting to know him.

I came to see that Craig was too emotionally involved in homelessness, to be making city policy about homeless issues – police departments don’t their police officers be involved in investigations of crimes concerning their family or close friends, because they are too close to the victims and crimes to be impartial, dispassionate, clinical.

Early this year, Mike Tolbert, co-owner of Daddy Bones BBQ located just behind Checkers on North Roosevelt Blvd, told me he was there that night and walked over to the scene where Craig’s daughter had run over the homeless man on his bicycle. Mike said, based on what he heard at the scene, it was both of their faults. She had turned onto North Roosevelt and did not see the man on his bicycle, and he did not see her turning his way. Mike said Craig later refused the family of the dead homeless man’s request that his funeral expenses be reimbursed.

0cad9kvu6ca1mar1icblind-justice.jpg

Going much farther back in time, in the early 1990s, a federal lawsuit was filed by the ACLU to stop Miami from using its police to drive homeless people out of that city. The federal judge ruled it was cruel and unusual punishment for the city to use its police to stop homeless people from performing life-sustaining functions: sleeping, cooking, camping, relieving themselves in public places.

The judge ruled that city police could not stop homeless people from living as they did, unless the city provided homeless shelters where they could live, and if they were unable to get to the shelters, the city had to furnish them transportation, and only if they then refused to go to a shelter could city police arrest and jail them.

That case was appealed, and the appellate court sent it back down for the parties to work it out.

Ever since, Miami’s homeless policy has been run by a federal judge. The city lost all say-so on its homeless policy. The city has to go to a federal judge whenever it wants to try to change anything about its homeless policy. There is nothing Miami can do about that.

The same federal court has jurisdiction over Key West. It would be a piece of cake to bring a similar lawsuit against Key West in federal court, relying on the Pottinger case, which was the name of one of the homeless plaintiffs in the Miami case.

One way Miami tried to cope with its homeless problem was to provide a lot of subsidized housing for homeless people, to get them off of city sidewalks, streets, parks, beaches, etc. As I recall, close to $100 million in funding was provided by government and private sources. The city’s homeless problem persisted.

Key West simply does not have the land on which to build subsidized housing for its homeless people, nor does Key West have the money to fund it. There is a crying need for cheap rental housing in Key West, for people who are not homeless – yet,  for which the city does not have the land or funding. There also is a crying need for affordable and upper end elder housing.

Mayor Cates and the city commissioners know all of that.

Many Key West people, including Margaret Romero and Tony Yaniz, push to make all city homeless leave the area, or at least go to a city homeless shelter on, say, Big Coppit Key.

Besides the Pottinger case’s restrictions, most homeless people will not travel that far to a shelter, nor do they have a way to get there. The city will have to provide transportation to homeless people who want to go to that remote shelter. Furthermore, there is no legal way to stop homeless people from leaving that shelter and heading back down to Key West, on foot, on their bicycles, on city transit buses.

Key West initially gave homeless people free city bus passes, so they could get to KOTS. Then, the city stopped providing city bus tickets.

The city built KOTS, because local attorney Sam Kaufman, now Chairman of the Board of FKOC,

Sam KaufmanKaufman and Braddock

and this former Alabama practicing attorney convinced City Hall that we would file a Pottinger lawsuit against Key West, if the city didn’t stop treating its homeless people like Miami had treated its homeless people before the ACLU got a federal judge to put a stop to it.

I told City Hall not to build KOTS; it would become a den of booze and other drugs, prostitution, thieves, disease, which ended up happening. Then, after some begging by the city, Steve Braddock agreed FKOC would take over and run KOTS for the city, if Steve’s former right-hand man Charles Davis agreed to come back from Nevada and straighten KOTS out. Charles said he would come back on condition he called all the shots with KOTS. The city and the Sheriff agreed to that, and Charles came back and straightened KOTS out as well as it could be straightened out. It still remained a den of drugs and thieves and disease, since anyone with drugs, including booze, in their system was allowed in there at night.

I told City Hall simply to let homeless people alone, unless they were violent, committing real crimes. Why coop them up at night in a shelter, when most of them are out of sight anyway? Why coop them up at night, when only about half, or less, of them would even go to the coop? Why coop them up at night, when, during daylight, they have as much right as anyone else to be on city sidewalks and city streets, and in public parking lots, at shopping centers, and on public beaches and in public parks? Why spend money hiding them from hidden view at night, when they are in plain view in daylight?

Now City Hall sees KOTS never was big enough, and a bigger shelter is needed to keep the Pottinger case happy with Key West. Well, build the bigger shelter, and put it some place safe and sane. The Easter Seals property is not safe nor sane. The proof of that is Mayor Cates, Tony Yaniz and Margaret Romero will not for a heartbeat stand for the new homeless shelter to be built next door to their homes.

At the county commission/city commission homeless summit about two months ago, during citizen comments, I said nobody wants to hear it, but there is no real solution to homelessness; the best than can be done is try to manage it. I said, Key West needs its own drunk tank to take the pressure off the Sheriff and the hospital, and to give the Sheriff incentive to allow the city’s new homeless shelter to be on his land.

County Commissioner David Rice, a practicing psychologist,

David Rice

who for many years ran the Guidance Clinics of the Florida Keys, which specialized in detoxing and treating addicts and various mental disorders, said I was right; there is no solution to homelessness, we only can try to manage it; and he liked what I had said about Key West having its own drunk tank. He said, it would not work to mix active addict homeless people with non-using homeless people, if the purpose of a new homeless shelter was to try to turn homeless people around – but maybe that was not the purpose, he added.

C.G. Jung

David’s and my remarks were the most important comments at the homeless summit, and not a word of that was reported in the local newspapers, nor by US 1 Radio. Nor was what I later said to same effect at the city commission meeting reported by the local media.

So far, it seems Margaret, Tony, Craig, and many, if not almost all Key West people will not accept the hard truth: absent a miracle, there is no cure for homelessness; and homelessness is going to get worse, because of American foreign wars, child abuse and other soul traumas, which eventually translate into addiction, mental illness, homelessness.

As does post-traumatic stress caused by combat. A good number of local homeless people are veterans of foreign US wars. Here is one at a Memorial Day service in Key West Cemetery.

homeless vet

From an esoteric perspective, homeless people mirror mainstream; they are mainstream’s shadow, and there is no way to get rid of the shadow, except by going where there is no light to cast it. That, or leave the old head stuck where the sun doesn’t shine.

Back in the fall of 2011, when I lived on Little Torch Key, Erika Biddle dreamed up and mothered Hidden in Plain View into existence. A homeless art, poetry, music exposition at Studios of Key West, which, I was told by one of the curators, was, by far, the most viewed art show Studios of Key West had put on.

Erika at Hidden in Plain View

Erika, at Hidden in Plain View opening

Hidden in Plain View

SheelMan and subject

event photographer Sheelman, and his subject, viewing his photo of her at Hidden in Plain View opening

Jeanie and Scorpio

After Erika got me involved in her baby, I contributed a soul drawing, poetry, and money, which she used to pay for the Lobster Trap Book, which she viewed as the centerpiece of the entire show – the book was made from the wood of an old lobster trap.

lobster trap book

In that unique book was art, poetry and comments from different people about homelessness.

On the soul drawing, I was moved to write, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions, but there are far worse things than being homeless.”

I figured that was prophetic.

Eventually, I was moved back to Key West by the angels who had connected Erika and me. Then, something happened, which was far worse that being homeless:

The horrible death of suspected homeless man Charles Eimers last Thanksgiving Day,

Charles Eimers

in the hands of KWPD officers, was the direct proximate consequence of Key West’s aggressive homeless policy. Margaret Romero, Tony Yaniz and Craig Cates have yet to publicly show remorse for what happened to Charles Eimers.

As for people who live in their vehicles in Key West, the city passed an ordinance making that a crime. So much for “A man’s home is his castle,” even if the only home he can afford is a van.

Michelangelo

92-year-old World War II veteran Michelangelo center, with two friends and their vicious attack dog

Key West let’s people live in boats, if they are paying dockage in city marinas. Many boat people live outside the city marinas, where city police cannot get at them.

Last night at Daddy Bones BBQ, Mike Tolbert told me that a fellow eating in there, from the Ukraine, just recently was cited for living in his vehicle, and now is facing dealing with that or going back to the Ukraine which is getting blown to bits.

I have a number of friends who live in their vehicles in Key West all year round, and other friends who come down here in their vehicles part time. I affectionately call them “vicious van dweller criminals”, in respect to the city’s anti-lodging-in-vehicle ordinance.

A lot of people live in vehicles in Ke West. If they give up their vehicles, or stop living in them, they have to stay nights at KOTS, which often is full, or sleep somewhere outside and be harassed by city police and perhaps jailed, and then lose their jobs, if they have jobs.

Married couples and parents with children are living in their vehicles in Key West.

The city has at least four police officers specially assigned to deal only with homeless people.

homeless apprenension

Thirteen police officers were in on the apprehension of the suspect homeless man Charles Eimers, who retired from his job and came to Key West with savings and a pension, to make the city his home, but only for one day.

Below is a link to the most recent www.thebluepaper.com article on the Eimer’s case, which contains a link to all the earlier blue paper articles on that case, and the damning video shot by a bystander, which totally contradicted the KWPD’s version of the arrest of Eimers. But for the bystander’s video and the blue paper, the KWPD would have gotten clean away – and, for all we know, still might, based on how the “official” investigation is going.

The Eimers Investigation: Did They Lose The Book?

Make no mistake, I am not easy on homeless people when they are out of line.

Sloan in collarshopped photo done by a “friend”

I get onto them when they act out. I tell them when they are drunk or otherwise wasted, that their habit is not doing them or God any good; they are useless to God when they are wasted. I have dialed 911 on homeless people who needed police intervention. I have told them no way will I bring a lawsuit to ask a judge to rule Key West’s open container law is being selectively enforced against them. No way will I ask a judge to make it legal for them drink themselves to death in public.

Instead, I advocate city police arrest drunk homeless people, make them lock up their bicycles, and take them to a city drunk tank, where they stay until the next morning and then are released, on foot. That will be a jolt to those drunk homeless people. They will be in withdrawal when they are let out. They will be uncomfortable. They will have a ways to go on foot, or by city bus, to get to their bicycles and a liquor outlet. They will not like that. They will like even less getting picked up later the same day, or the next day, for being drunk, and put back into the city’s drunk tank, and let out again the next morning.

After a few, or a lot, of rounds of that, maybe some homeless people will decide they want to get help; and maybe some of them will decide they want to leave the area, and will leave on their own, or will accept a one-way Greyhound bus ticket to somewhere on the mainland.

Too bad that same tough-love addiction-treatment program isn’t imposed on Key West’s mainstream addicts, who, I imagine, outnumber Key West’s homeless addicts by at least 100-1.

There but for the grace of God goes every last person in Key West, the city of so-called one human family.

Krishnamurti 2

Back to the esoteric perspective:

Because Key West adopted one human family as its official philosophy, the angels decided to put Key West to the test, to see if homeless people really were part of that philosophy.

The angels also put Key West to that test, because it is said Key West has more churches and more bars, per capita, than any other city in the world;

And because it is stated in the Gospels that Jesus was homeless: The foxes have their dens, and the birds have their nests, but the Son of man has no place to lay down his head;

And because it is stated in the Gospels that Jesus mingled with sinners, the poor, the downtrodden, the lepers, and he didn’t care for the self-righteous;

And because it is stated in the Gospels that Jesus told his disciples, as they did to the least of people, the poor, lepers, the prisoners, they did also to him;

And because, if Jesus came back to Key West today, and was homeless here, and behaved here as he behaved back then, he would be treated the same here as he was treated back then.

Saying it another way, the angels are using Key West as a proxy for humanity’s relationship with Jesus, and how that Operation Homeless goes in Key West reflects how humanity is doing with Jesus.

Jesus with leper

Jesus ministers to leper

That’s quite a Christ-mas present, Erika and Kelly and Steve.

For new readers of my meanderings, over the years I have told in different ways how I became homeless. It may or may not be an interesting tale to you, and it doesn’t really matter how it came about. Each homeless person I have known had his/her own story of becoming homeless. Except for a few homeless people I met, who had means and were homeless because they simply wanted to see what it was like, the immediate cause of our being homeless was we ran out of money and no longer could live in the way we had been living.

How I stopped being homeless was my father died and I received an inheritance. But for that, I still would be homeless, because there is a spirit block on my earning enough money not to be homeless. That’s my story and I’m  sticking to it.

Sloan at HH

Sloan Bashinsky
keysmyhome@hotmail.com

Political advertisement paid for and approved by Sloan Bashinsky, for Mayor of Key West

About Sloan

Darn, that would take a while. Try the autobiographical pages in the header. Ditto for header menu pages at www.goodmorningbirmingham.com. Hatched and raised there, eventually I ran away from home. Here's a short list: Born 1942; male; single; accused of all sorts of imaginable and unimaginable things, perhaps some true. Live on Key West of Weird asteroid. Publish something most days on this website, been at that since July 2007. That's heaps of catch-up reading, probably not recommended.
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