Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Homeless man preparing to leave bridge

TAVERNIER -- Avoiding a legal fight, which could require him to be temporarily jailed, a homeless man living under the Tavernier Creek Bridge is moving out.

Known as "Fisherman Jack" or "Jack the Cat Man," the man has lived under the bridge for about 15 years with a feral cat colony he feeds. On occasion, friends and supporters have removed some of the cats to have them spayed and neutered.

In October, at the behest of the Florida Department of Transportation, Monroe County Sheriff's deputies informed Jack he was trespassing under the bridge and needed to move away. FDOT officials said the condition of Jack's living area prevented proper bridge inspections.

Recently, some community members have rallied around Jack, raising $3,400 through a fundraising website set up by Tammie Gurgiolo to help him relocate to a new spot.

Gurgiolo said she has issued Jack a few hundred dollars over the last few weeks to help him with expenses.

"I'll give him $200 or $300 every now and then," she said. "I don't want him to have too much money at one time."

So far, about half of the money raised has either been given to Jack or used to buy him a tent to serve as his new living quarters. Some shoes and clothes have also been given to Jack.

"This is a slow process," she said.

Gurgiolo said someone has gone down under the bridge and removed Jack's bedding.

Former state attorney Dennis Ward said he has been in close contact with Jack over the last few weeks and was prepared to take his trespassing fight to court. For that to happen, though, Jack would likely have to be arrested for trespassing under the bridge.

"I am disappointed with his decision," Ward said. "He told me he didn't want to go jail."

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

Ward declined to say where Jack would be moving to prevent possible harassment. Depending on what happens at Jack's next location, Ward said legal action to protect the homeless man remains on the table. Away from the bridge, FDOT would no longer be involved and it would be a county issue, he said.

jgore@keysnews.com

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