Wendy Coles, the executive director of the Southernmost Homeless Assistance League, announced her resignation this week to the nonprofit's board of directors, saying she wants to leave the job by the end of November.
The agency, which only a year ago began providing direct services that include managing the city's overnight homeless shelter on Stock Island, has only Coles and another staff member, Jeanette McLernon, on the payroll.
Coles cited a desire to spend more time with her family as the only reason for leaving. She said SHAL is running smoothly and that she would stick around for the transition of a new director.
"I now have two wonderful grandchildren and I would like to have the flexibility to have more time, while believing SHAL is in good shape right now and ready to move on without me," Coles said Wednesday. She is leaving at a time when the agency has asked for an additional $20,000 for its expanded services at Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter, for which the city budget reserves $400,000 a year to keep open.
At first SHAL said the KOTS contract would be short term, but no exit strategy has emerged other than Mayor Craig Cates' push to build a comprehensive "therapeutic" homeless shelter off College Road at the former Easter Seals property.
SHAL representatives, including Coles, appeared at recent city budget hearings, demanding that commissioners fully fund their programs because the agency has taken over Key West's responsibility to care for its most vulnerable citizens.
She was at Old City Hall on Monday for the City Commission's budget hearing.
"I'm not assuming anything until the vote is made," Coles said on Wednesday.
Also, SHAL last winter created a "Mobile Outreach Program," which put an RV on the streets of Key West, outfitted with an Internet connection and a case worker to offer social services to homeless men and women who aren't receiving help.
The original caseworker, Steve Clark, has tendered his resignation effective next week. Coles said someone else has already been hired to take the job and the RV will continue rolling without delay.
Coles announced her resignation at SHAL's board meeting on Tuesday, where the guests outnumbered the board members.
At first, the board didn't attract enough of its 12 members to achieve a quorum. But members trickled in, over the phone and in person, according to people who attended.
Recently, SHAL, which was formed to serve as a lead agency that allows Monroe County to receive and distribute federal funding, has been hit with changes.
SHAL's longtime chairwoman of the board, RaiEtte Avael, resigned in early June, also citing family as the reason.
A week later, Coles fired KOTS director Nancy Banks over her refusal to take on the responsibility of overseeing the annual budget, something that had never been in her job description.
Florida Keys Outreach Coalition for the Homeless (FKOC) had managed KOTS since right after the city opened it on county property in 2004, but ended the contract with Key West after the nearby Sunset Marina condo association filed a lawsuit in an effort to close down the shelter.
SHAL stepped up to take over for FKOC on Oct. 1, but always said it was a six-month deal and that the city would put out a bid to attract new management.
Ten months later, SHAL remains the manager and no bid has been put together, let alone released by Key West.
"This is an opportune time for the SHAL board of directors to get the organization back on course and fulfill its mission as Monroe County's lead agency and get out of the business of providing direct services," said the Rev. Steve Braddock, CEO and president of FKOC.
Braddock this year told the board in person that SHAL seemed to be veering from its "mission statement," a nonprofit's primary purpose held almost as a sacred oath to its donors and the community.
Nonprofits in the Florida Keys pay SHAL a yearly membership fee in order to receive grant funding.
A court hearing is set for Aug. 31 in the lawsuit, filed a year ago after condo owners and residents became fed up with homeless men and women filing in and out of the road that leads to KOTS off College Road, which passes the entrance to the marina.
In the suit, however, the plaintiffs claim the city illegally built the shelter by skipping permitting processes.
Key West leaders hastily built KOTS in an effort to stave off civil rights lawsuits that have hammered other Florida cities reliant on tourism.
Under SHAL's management, more case management services have been added, although the shelter was always meant to serve as a safe spot for the city's most vulnerable residents, nothing more.
In her most recent report to the SHAL board, Angela Nunez, the new shelter director, wrote that the shelter staff is "cracking down and enforcing already existing rules and procedures."
One new effort is dubbed "the penalty box," a place meant to punish drunken homeless people who show up looking for a bunk and hot shower.
This "penalty box" is where "we sleep the inebriated clients, so that we do not reward drunkenness with air conditioning," Nunez wrote.
Also, the men and women who check on the homeless each night are no longer called "monitors," as they now have additional duties.
Nunez said she has fostered new relationships with hotels, where she has picked up soaps and towels to save the agency $230 in July. She also canceled the shelter's cellphones to save about $100 a month.
KOTS also now has three "life coaches" who have drawn up plans to help 37 shelter clients.