Nine months after taking over the management of the city's overnight homeless shelter, leaders of a Florida Keys nonprofit Tuesday told Key West city commissioners that they are not asking for a handout in this year's higher budget request.
The Southernmost Homeless Assistance League (SHAL), which had never provided services before taking over the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter (KOTS) on Stock Island Oct. 1, also has been running a "mobile outreach" program for the homeless, in the form of a recreational vehicle staffed with counselors, for almost a year.
Instead of quibbling with the amount, the city needs to pay for its homeless services, SHAL board member Roger McVeigh said Tuesday at an afternoon hearing at Old City Hall.
"We hope we are a trusted and valued city vendor, and one the city appreciates for the critical situation last fall. In less than 30 days, we took over a $400,000 service," said McVeigh, SHAL's treasurer.
SHAL asks for more
At issue during this week's city budget hearings was SHAL's request for an additional $22,000 to beef up staff that keeps track of homeless men and women in an effort to help them find housing and jobs or disability benefits.
The shelter and the mobile outreach program ended up serving the same population, said Executive Director Wendy Coles, and at this point are joined together.
KOTS offers a bunk and shower to up to 140 people a night. Since January, it has served 738 people, 14 percent of whom were military veterans, according to reports Coles provided Tuesday.
The mobile program has served 418 people since it started in November, the report said.
SHAL's total request this budget season is $444,118, a figure at which City Commissioner Jimmy Weekley balked, reminding SHAL that it had asked for a "one-time" startup fee for the RV service, one that Coles described last fall as a pilot program.
Add the bills for electricity and other utilities and the city projects $476,018 for its homeless services this coming year.
Without the city's funding, SHAL could lose out on a matching grant from a foundation, Coles said.
"If you choose not to fund, we will reduce the number of days [mobile outreach] is operating on the streets," said Coles.
SHAL has drawn criticism this year from the Rev. Steve Braddock, president of Florida Keys Outreach Coalition (FKOC) for the Homeless, the nonprofit that managed KOTS -- almost since its inception -- before SHAL took over.
FKOC bowed out in response to a civil lawsuit filed by Sunset Marina that demands the city shut down the shelter, on the grounds it was built without proper permitting. The suit is pending.
Braddock attended a SHAL meeting last month and questioned whether the nonprofit, which serves as a source of grant money for other local agencies -- who pay an annual fee and are known as "members" -- is drifting away from its original mission statement.
Braddock has also taken issue with SHAL's January 2011 homeless count, a "point in time" survey that this year SHAL limited to the number of men and women in shelters.
SHAL reported that on Jan. 24, there were 246 people in Key West without adequate housing, citing a "positive trend," and crediting the city, the police and agencies like SHAL for the results.
SHAL got $424,100 in city funds for this fiscal year to run KOTS and the RV program. This time, the agency wants $444,118.
The city reserves $400,000 a year to keep KOTS up and running.
SHAL's request to the city this year breaks down to $363,059 for KOTS, $38,172 for the mobile outreach RV, and $42,887 for "enhanced homeless services."
One commissioner went to bat for the nonprofit, absolving Coles for coming back again for more money after having called it a one-time request.
The city is the entity that asked SHAL to take over KOTS, said Commissioner Teri Johnston.
"The city went to this organization to bail us out of a pretty significant situation when the provider for KOTS left us with very short notice," said Johnston. "The program is working. They are reducing the number of homeless out on the street."
Johnston said the commission will have to "bite the bullet" in this case, citing Key West's reliance on tourism for revenue.
"The opinion of people and the condition of the island will determine whether they come back here," she said. "I see this as addressing a situation that will threaten our own form of income."
Weekley noted that FKOC gave proper notice per its contract.
"It wasn't like they up and walked away from it," he said. "FKOC returned money to the city; they did not use all of the revenues."
To that, McVeigh responded that SHAL was prepared to cut a check to the city for at least $25,000 that the nonprofit didn't use this year. That money cannot be used for hires.