Florida Keys News
Friday, October 12, 2012
Who will manage shelter?
Deadline nears with no action on KOTS

The Southernmost Homeless Assistance League put the city of Key West on notice a month ago that it wants out of the homeless shelter management business by Dec. 31.

But the city has not yet started putting together a solicitation bid, Assistant City Manager Mark Finigan said Thursday, adding he hasn't had time and that the process will take a couple of weeks -- plus about 30 days to advertise it.

Then there's the whole bid selection process.

"It needs to start pretty soon being prepared and released if we're wanting to meet that Dec. 31 date," said Finigan. "I'm shooting for that date. I'm hoping that for some reason if it's two weeks before or after, that there's enough flexibility in that direction."

Finigan said he has heard serious inquiries from only a Hollywood, Fla.-based nonprofit that has run such services for years, and from a group of shelter employees who would like to take it over.

"It depends on who they put in charge and who's on the board of directors," Finigan said of the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter (KOTS) employees' chances for winning the city's bid.

SHAL took over KOTS on Oct. 1, 2011, soon after the city had received notice that the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition for the Homeless was bowing out in light of a civil lawsuit, which remains pending against the city over the shelter's location.

SHAL signed up for a six-month stint at the shelter, which costs Key West taxpayers about $350,000 a year, but the city never got around to drawing up a package, let alone accepting bids, from other agencies.

That's because SHAL was doing such a fine job, said Mayor Craig Cates.

"It's better down here with the homeless now," said Cates. "We're helping more of them, getting them IDs, and contact with their families at home. I think we've made a lot of good improvements. We've come a long way and I'd like us to continue in that direction."

About a dozen nonprofit leaders want SHAL to quit providing direct services to the homeless and go back to its original mission of landing state and federal grants for distribution across the Florida Keys.

SHAL acquiesced last month, saying it had planned to manage KOTS only on a temporary basis.

Its concession to drop the shelter management role came after a flurry of letters from leaders of other Florida Keys nonprofits demanding that SHAL refocus its energy on acting as an umbrella agency that delivers grants for its dues-paying members.

SHAL is the lead agency for homeless services in Monroe County, charged with handling the complexities of accountability tied to federal grant money.

It has been a year since the nonprofit, which has only two paid employees, began managing the Stock Island homeless shelter. Soon afterward it launched a mobile outreach program in the form of a roaming recreational vehicle staffed with a case manager.

After criticism from its nonprofit members, who say SHAL has overstepped its boundaries and its capabilities, SHAL Executive Director Wendy Coles put city officials on notice that they needed to find new management for the shelter.

Member agencies, which include Samuel's House, the Guidance/Care Center, Monroe Association for ReMARCable Citizens and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami, also have asked SHAL's board of directors to suspend its search for a new executive director until after the new year, at least, in light of the agency's push to stop managing the city's homeless shelter by December.

Coles gave notice earlier this year, and on Thursday said her last day remains Nov. 1.

"With a new board coming in, in January, perhaps it is wiser to have the new board select who they would want to work with," said Coles, whose annual salary is $52,000.

SHAL's board of directors meets at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Key West at the Gato Building, 1100 Simonton St.

"Tuesday is a big meeting," Coles said Thursday. "We are certainly encouraging as many members as possible to attend."

She acknowledged having taken some direct hits from the Keys nonprofits that provide social services.

"I gave it my best," Coles said. "Perhaps, I think, there is value in using this time to assess where they are going. If they're wanting to take it in a different direction than I was going, then that is the decision of the group. I gave it my best and it's time for me to move on and let the next group take it to the next level."

Mayor Cates and Finigan both said the city could always run the shelter for a time.

"It's an alternative, but I don't look at it as a real viable alternative, even if you could save a little bit of money," said Finigan. "SHAL, FKOC, they're aware of all the reporting requirements. The city's not equipped to do it."


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