Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Friday, November 30, 2012
City takes first step for 24-hour shelter

The City Commission is days away from taking the first formal step in bringing a 24-hour homeless shelter to Key West, one that would do away with the present Stock Island bunkhouse that is only meant as a safe crash pad for those who have nowhere else to sleep.

If approved, the resolution marks the first time the city's leaders have put in writing a plan for a 24-hour shelter.

At Tuesday's 6 p.m. meeting at Old City Hall, Mayor Craig Cates will present a resolution that calls for a full report on what it would take to open a 24-hour shelter at city-owned land on College Road: the site of the former Easter Seals building along with the present offices leased by the Mosquito Control District.

Those two locations "either singly or together could provide an adequate basic infrastructure for a 24-hour homeless shelter and services center," the resolution states.

Cates wouldn't offer a ballpark dollar figure for the center on Thursday, saying the resolution will direct staff to tally up a final price and that the county could agree to pitch in or help deliver grant money.

"It's something we have to have," said Cates. "We have to deal with the homeless. With this, I can go out and try to find funding."

The resolution says that "successful homeless facilities require the combined efforts of local, county and charitable organizations to cooperate to identify methods, financing and appropriate experienced personnel to create and manage" a 24-hour shelter.

Since he took office in 2008, Cates has been talking about creating such a comprehensive center that would provide a central place for Key West that would offer all current services, including food, shelter and treatment programs.

For now, the city provides only the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter, which offers a vinyl mattress and a hot shower for up to 140 men and women.

The city reserves $400,000 a year to run the shelter, which ends services at 7 a.m. daily, sending men and women filing out with their belongings on their backs or bicycle baskets.

Cates has the votes to pass the resolution, a round of phone calls to commissioners proved Thursday.

"This isn't for vagrants; this is for the guy that lost his job that got sick and that, by the grace of God, go all of us," said Commissioner Teri Johnston, who supports the resolution. "It takes more than a shower and a cot to do that."

Commissioner Clayton Lopez said Thursday that he will also vote in favor of the resolution.

Like Johnston, Lopez pointed out a difference between the island's residents in dire need of basic services and a fringe element of those who booze and urinate in public.

"Who are we to say which is which?" Lopez asked rhetorically. "You have to help all. Those who don't want the help, they'll show themselves."

A third commissioner said he was skeptical about Key West planting a 24-hour shelter on Stock Island, but that he will also vote "yes" on Tuesday when the resolution comes up.

"Yeah, since it's just going to be a study on it to find out exactly what we're going to do about it," said Commissioner Billy Wardlow, whose district includes KOTS.

"I'm not really keen for 24 hours. I don't mind a place for them to sleep.

"My problem with 24 hours is that we don't have a place out in this part of town for kids and adults to go to, like a library."

Cates and his resolution argue that a 24-hour shelter will reduce the homeless population by offering "training and mentoring programs."

Plans for a 24-hour homeless shelter have also been offered up as part of the city's legal strategy in settling a pending lawsuit filed by Sunset Marina condo owners over the location of KOTS, which is situated near the upscale homes and the county jail.

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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