Florida Keys News
Friday, November 30, 2012
Neighborhood 'separate and unequal'
Survey: Bahama Village poorer, lacking services

Key West's Bahama Village comprises 16 city blocks that amount to less than a quarter of a square mile and is home to just 1,414 people.

Yet while Bahama Village represents only a sliver of the island, the neighborhood stands out with a poverty rate more than double that of the entire city, according to a survey presented Thursday night by a Monroe County Health Department intern who went door-to-door interviewing residents.

The top complaints were a lack of activities for children, too little parking and drug trafficking, Alison Morales reported, having surveyed 342 people between Sept. 8 and Nov. 24.

"Bahama Village is very segregated," said Morales, who compiled her research as part of a college project. "It has a major minority population. It's separate and unequal and it's surrounded by predominantly high-income communities."

The same survey found that 85 percent of those interviewed want a community garden installed so residents could grow their own vegetables.

Respondents agreed that their neighborhood is safe, at a 70 percent rate, and that Key West police patrols were either "good" or "fair," the survey found.

Almost a quarter of respondents rated the local police service as "poor."

More streetlights are sorely needed, along with the repair of the Frederick Douglass Gym, which presently lacks working restrooms and has several rooms locked off for safety reasons, including the kitchen.

On Tuesday, the City Commission will consider a proposed resolution to promise the first $1 million of the city's Pier House sale to repair the gym.

"Plans are on the way," City Commissioner Clayton Lopez said Thursday. "What's going on with the Douglass gym is a very personal issue to me. That problem evidenced itself to me during my mother's repast."

The gym began to crumble and fall with his relatives inside, Lopez said.

Other complaints from the survey were of trash and litter, along with "police harassment" and a lack of jobs, Morales said.

"Cleaning Emma and Julia streets of drug sales and stop the outsiders from bringing drugs from the mainland," one respondent told Morales.

However, residents also said police presence has improved in recent years, Morales told the meeting's attendees.

About 34 people turned out for the public meeting, hosted by Lopez and Monroe County Health Department Administrator Bob Eadie. But it was sparsely attended by actual residents of Bahama Village.

Thursday's meeting, held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, was largely attended by a who's who of Key West officials, city employees and activists.

Police Chief Donie Lee sat by Nicole Malo, an assistant city planner, and City Attorney Shawn Smith.

Public Defender Rosemary Enright also attended, along with the city's sustainability coordinator, Alison Higgins; Sue Srch, executive director of the city's Citizen Review Board; and Katchen Duncan, who runs the nonprofit Bahama Village Music Program, which offers free music lessons to kids.

Lopez said the meeting was recorded.

Duncan and Just 4 Kids Art program director Mary Elizabeth Parmley told the crowd that their free programs for children have been around for over a decade in Bahama Village.

Duncan's program gets by on donations, while Parmley said the city-owned building that houses hers, at 103 Olivia St., doesn't have a working bathroom and the air quality makes her cough.

"We're having an event on the 21st," Parmley told the crowd of the program's Christmas bash set for Dec. 21. "Please come."

The survey is simply a tool to recognize disparities, Eadie said.

"The important things to a community are the things that get done," said Eadie. "This process is not here to bring the city officials together, although we've got everyone except four here with us tonight. This is a way that we try to assess from a community and from a public health perspective what's important and what are we going to do about it."


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