Florida Keys News
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
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More than $3K raised for 'Jack'

TAVERNIER -- Donations continue to come in to help a homeless man move from under Tavernier Creek Bridge.

Last month, Jack, sometimes known as "Fisherman Jack" or "Jack the Cat Man" due to his daily practice of feeding the Winn-Dixie cats, was given notice by Monroe County Sheriff's deputies that he needed to vacate his nook under the bridge, where he's lived for more than a decade.

When word of Jack's eviction spread through the Upper Keys, a good Samaritan set up a website for donations, which had raised $3,105 as of noon Monday. According to the fundraising website, the money will be used to purchase Jack a military-grade tent and solar shower, among other supplies, so he can continue to tend to his cats from a new location.

Tammy Gurgiolo, who is running the website, said none of the money has been spent so far, as she is waiting until somewhere permanent is found for Jack. Despite having surpassed her $2,000 fundraising goal, Gurgiolo plans on leaving the website running. Additional donations could be used to provide medical care to the cats or legal help for Jack, she added.

On Saturday, Upper Keys residents, including Gurgiolo and former State Attorney Dennis Ward, helped clean out much of the trash that has accumulated under the bridge.

"He had heaps of cardboard and plastic bottles," Gurgiolo said.

Ward, a self-described friend to Jack, said he is willing to provide legal representation if deputies try to arrest him for failing to comply with no-trespassing signs recently affixed to the bridge by the Florida Department of Transportation.

"If they think they're going to come in here and move Jack without a fight, then they have another thing coming," Ward said.

The only option officials have given is to move Jack to a homeless shelter in Key West.

"That's 100 miles away," Ward said. "Who wants to up and move 100 miles away?"

Ward said Jack may have a legal right to stay under the bridge, citing Pottinger vs. City of Miami, a federal ruling that protects the homeless from police harassment.

"I just need to sit down with Jack and figure out what he wants to do," Ward said, who is also discussing the matter directly with FDOT.

The Free Press made a records request on Nov. 7 to FDOT spokesman Brian Rick for emails and information regarding who complained about Jack living under the bridge. As of Monday, FDOT had provided one citzen complaint, though officials say others exist.

Rick has previously told the Free Press that the signs were installed due to complaints from local business owners about debris and human waste and based on the observations from FDOT inspectors and a specific request from the Sheriff's Office.

jgore@keysnews.com

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