The 13-year-old nonprofit Southernmost Homeless Assistance League disintegrated Tuesday, as its board of directors voted to continue running the city's homeless shelter and no longer serve as an umbrella agency that funnels government money to Florida Keys service providers.
Led by chairwoman Rosemary Enright and treasurer Roger McVeigh, SHAL's board made a decision that means the SHAL name will disappear and the pair will lead a charge to form a new nonprofit for the Keys.
This forthcoming new nonprofit will continue managing the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter (KOTS) on Stock Island, as SHAL has since last October, and running a "mobile outreach program," that puts a Recreational Vehicle carrying a case worker on the streets of Key West.
The decision also means that Monroe County nonprofits need a new "lead agency," one required to report homeless statistics to the federal government and receive grants.
Services and grants and paperwork due to the Department of Housing and Urban Development will go on as usual, nonprofit leaders in the room said.
"We will move on," said Michael Coppola, of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Miami. "Something needed to happen."
With a dozen Keys nonprofit leaders in the room, the lines were drawn quickly around the table.
The Rev. Stephen Braddock, president and CEO of the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition, which ran KOTS since its inception in 2004, was seated at one end of the table, near leaders of Samuel's House, Helpline, Catholic Charities, and MARC House -- all wanting SHAL to revert back to its lead agency role.
But McVeigh said he is not interested in going back to the sidelines, and wants to help provide services to the homeless in Key West.
"Over the last five years, I've spent a lot of hours working for homeless people," said McVeigh, a retired accountant and triathlete who lives in Key West. "I'm tired. Over the last 12 months we were serving people who really need the services."
Enright accused the group of providers, who have repeatedly demanded that SHAL stop running the shelter and go back to its original mission as an umbrella agency, of playing politics rather than caring for the island's least fortunate residents.
"I honestly feel it's been a turf war between agencies of SHAL," said Enright. "I'm on this board to help people."
The room included some original members of SHAL and former chairmen, like Lou Hernandez, who tried to lobby for a more middle of the road decision.
"Wow, how the hell did we get here?" asked Hernandez, executive director of Helpline. "This is a proposal to destroy SHAL and we don't have to. I think we can do this without fisticuffs. I really do think we can work this out."
The votes came soon after. SHAL would disband and its spin-off will keep running KOTS.
SHAL board member Ken Gentile reminded the room that managing KOTS was always supposed to be temporary, given the "emergency" that the city had in losing FKOC to the lawsuit scare.
Gentile acknowledged that SHAL's member agencies, who pay dues, didn't want to see it continue running the shelter.
"It's kind of like your in-laws living in your house," said Gentile. "It's great the first couple of weeks."
Tuesday's two-hour SHAL board meeting didn't conclude without several angry outbursts, namely by chairwoman Enright.
Enright, seated by McVeigh, scolded the room at one point, singling out Stephanie Kaple, who is in her seventh year working full-time for FKOC to help homeless women and children.
"Not once today did I hear anybody talk about the clients," said Enright, using the nonprofit term for the needy populace. "And Stephanie, you can make your little smile and I don't really appreciate that. The city dumped this on our laps because nobody else would take it. I'm going to vote yes because I want to help clients. I'm tired of the bickering."
Nancy Romain, who works for the School District, and others suggested that SHAL board members simply form their own nonprofit to run KOTS and the RV.
Braddock said, "The appropriate thing is for a new entity to be formed, not to abandon the mission."
Enright said, "Our mission is to help homeless families."
Braddock replied, "That wasn't your mission."
Enright answered, "Service providers don't support SHAL. We've gotten no recognition. We've gotten only grief, things in the paper."
After the meeting, Enright told a reporter from The Citizen that she doesn't "speak to the press," and that the newspaper has "written nothing but negative things."
Hours later, SHAL did release a statement, one that quoted Mayor Craig Cates as a proponent of the board's decisions and had Enright explaining the day's events as SHAL "reaffirming its commitment to the homeless."
Enright is quoted in the statement as having said, "The decision will also ensure recent improvements in homeless services are preserved and will allow us to play a meaningful role in future services to the homeless in our community."
For a year, SHAL, led by outgoing executive director Wendy Coles, has transformed itself into a homeless services provider.
Coles was silent during most of Tuesday's meeting, only telling the room that this was her last one and that she is leaving them all in good hands with Jeanette McLernon, who has worked for SHAL for a year and has ridden in the RV when it was down an employee.
The RV started at the beginning of the year, after SHAL had signed on for a six-month stint as manager.
For months now, Enright has said that SHAL always meant to be a temporary manager since the city promised to put the job out to bid.
Key West government never even started on a bid, Assistant City Manager Mark Finigan said last week.
That is also when the city of Key West handed over its overnight bunkhouse, the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter, which takes in up to 140 men and women each night.
At the same time, SHAL became manager of KOTS, when its longtime overseer, the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition, dropped the contract in response to a civil lawsuit that wants the shelter closed due to its location next to luxury condominiums and a marina.
Coles, who earns an annual salary of $52,000, resigned in August and leaves the job Nov. 1.
Fourteen people had applied for her executive director job, but that search abruptly halted Tuesday, since it's unclear what its duties will entail.