I take issue with Mayor Cates' guest column in the Sept. 25 of The Key West Citizen. While there is no doubt that we need a shelter in order to comply with federal law, otherwise the homeless would be sleeping in our parks, streets and mangroves like they did a few years ago. However, the Easter Seals site is no longer an option because the mayor chose to forego the basic tenet of cooperation between agencies.
I met with the Rev. Stephen Braddock, with the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition, and board member of the Continuum of Care Board (COC) last week and was astonished to learn that the first time the mayor met with that COC Board was a couple of weeks earlier.
To not solicit feedback and support from the COC, the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, county commissioners, or the residents of the golf course community, for that matter, was shortsighted. If you build a house, you first need a strong foundation. In this instance, the mayor could have had a solid basis by making these pivotal entities part of the team, but he seemed to think that he did not need their support or experience.
The homeless shelter at the Easter Seals property is a dead issue. In Mayor Cates' zeal to force this project down the throat of our citizens, he has set the management approach of the homeless issue back years.
So, in reality, where are we? We need a shelter. KOTS seems like, at best, still a temporary solution the city agreed to take care of eight years ago.
The proposal by my fellow Commissioner Billy Wardlow of placing a tent city in Rockland Key, which I would support, has met with a reply from the Navy stating that option may not be feasible; I presume from the standpoint of the safety/noise issues.
As I have stated, the Easter Seals site is done; I cannot and will not in good faith support an alternative that gives the homeless AC, HBO and free food while there are a number of elderly in this community waiting in line for housing, and many fellow citizens who work two, and sometimes three jobs just to make ends meet.
I will support any and all benefits and options for our Veterans. I am on the record stating that it is an embarrassment that as a nation we have discarded them after they made the ultimate sacrifice. I am also cognizant that there is a small portion of other homeless that have fallen on hard times and, as the saying goes, "There by the grace of God go I."
As a society we have to extend them a helping hand; but you'd have to be blind not to see that there is a much larger contingency of homeless that prefer the vagrant lifestyle as opposed to going to work every day, being conscientious citizens, paying their dues and being fully functioning participants in our community.
For that group, a tent, a toilet and a shower suits me just fine. I don't want them cozy here, I'd rather they look for greener pastures somewhere else!
That was the concept that was originally pitched to the commission and to the citizens, as well as the other aforementioned entities, although inexplicably the participation of those parties was sought neither by the mayor nor the city manager.
At some point that plan went haywire: The city paid $20,000 to a consultant and all of the sudden the plan went from tents to AC, etc. Last Thursday at the Key West Rotary Club weekly luncheon, Mayor Cates reiterated that all the players were on board and that the yearly cost to the city of Key West of $400,000-plus in the annual budget would not increase. All of that is just plain not the truth.
We need to provide a basic shelter that meets the federal law, provide help for those that are willing to seek it, and provide for our veterans ... period.
In lieu of waiting for the "Summit" or any further time-consuming studies, I have reached out to the COC, the sheriff and County Commissioner Carruthers to bring their visions and recommendations to the table. They are on board. Furthermore, I am reaching out to the Key West Golf Club residents and, via this letter, to all citizens as well as to my fellow city commissioners, Mayor Cates, our state and federal representatives to come up with viable alternatives.
If there is one thing we all agree on, it's that this is a problem that affects all of us, therefore we must all be part of the solution.
Stay tuned, and thanks to all of the parties that have reached out looking to come up with answers.