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Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
SHAL moves forward
Tuesday's meeting a friendly one

The Southernmost Homeless Assistance League on Tuesday continued with plans to become a full-time service provider in Key West, running both the city's homeless shelter and a mobile outreach program from a roaming Recreational Vehicle.

Fourteen nonprofit leaders and SHAL board members gathered for a board of directors meeting, where the changes included SHAL looking for new office space and suspending the plan to search for a new executive director.

In sharp contrast to its previous board meeting, Tuesday's conversation was quietly friendly as the room's attendees did what they do best: Run social service nonprofits aimed at helping the island's most vulnerable citizens.

"I think they have a lot of courage to go forward and carry on the projects," said Joe Pais, a veteran Florida Keys grant writer who helped form AIDS Help, after Tuesday's one-hour meeting. "This type of cooperation wouldn't happen in every community. It's perfect, I think."

Almost two dozen nonprofits have banded together to start a new nonprofit to take over the "lead agency" role required by federal rules and necessary to submit grant applications to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

SHAL will keep its name for now, board members said, and outgoing Executive Director Wendy Coles agreed Tuesday to stay on past Nov. 1, her one-time resignation date, and work 20 hours a week for at least the next several months.

SHAL Board Chairwoman Rosemary Enright suggested a maximum of six months for Coles, who agreed to a "given period of time" to help with the reformation of SHAL.

"You're in the middle of a transition," said Tommy Taylor, a SHAL board member. "You don't want to pull out one of your key players."

SHAL's board this month dismantled its 13-year mission as an umbrella group only, helping Florida Keys nonprofits receive state and federal grants and keep current with government regulations on the reporting of homeless statistics.

At issue was SHAL's transformation over the past year into a direct service provider, having taken over the management of Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter for the city a year ago, when Key West was hit by a civil lawsuit demanding that the shelter close.

SHAL was spared by the plaintiffs when it took over KOTS on Oct. 1, 2011, but its leaders took some hits from peers in the local nonprofit world when they remained running KOTS longer than six months, while obtaining more city money for the RV program, announced as a pilot program only.

SHAL's dues-paying members, including Samuel's House, Wesley House, MARC House, the Guidance/Care Center, Florida Keys Outreach Coalition, Florida Keys Children's Shelter and the area's Catholic Charities demanded that SHAL go back to its original mission statement.

When put on the spot, SHAL's board voted to end its lead agency role and continue providing direct services to the homeless.

The Sunset Marina condominium association sued the city and the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition, which had managed KOTS since 2004, over the location of the shelter.

The city hastily built the Stock Island bunkhouse as a solution to the island's highly visible population of people camping and living on public land known as the Bridle Path along South Roosevelt Boulevard and right outside the airport.

These days, KOTS takes in some 140 people each night for a thin vinyl mattress to sleep on and a turn in one of the showers.

Meanwhile, Mayor Craig Cates has persuaded the City Commission to approve a short series of laws that forbid overnight sleeping in cars or on beaches, and panhandling in all places except designated "zones" in Old Town.

But Sunset Marina's owners, represented by attorney Barton Smith, claim that in doing so, Key West bypassed all of its own permitting laws and in the process compromised residents' safety and property values.

FKOC bowed out of the city's KOTS management contract due to the suit. The city asked SHAL to take over temporarily, promising to put the job out to bid.

The city never prepared a bid, let alone solicited anyone to run KOTS, for which $400,000 of taxpayers' dollars is reserved annually to keep open seven nights a week.

The first courtroom hearing from the lawsuit, filed in August 2011, is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday at the 16th Judicial Circuit Court in Key West.

One of the first witnesses scheduled to testify is the Rev. Steve Braddock, president and CEO of FKOC, who helped run the shelter since its inception, and changed the bunkhouse's name from the Safe Zone to KOTS.

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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