TAVERNIER CREEK -- A homeless man may be winning a public relations battle against business owners, road contractors, the Monroe County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Department of Transportation.
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 deputies that he needed to vacate his nook under the Tavernier Creek bridge, where he's lived for more than a decade.
When word of Jack's eviction spread through the Upper Keys, a local good Samaratin set up a website for donations, which had raised $1,800 as of Monday. According to the fundraising website, the money would be used to purchase Jack a military-grade tent and solar shower, among other items, so he can continue to tend to his cats from a new location.
Efforts to move Jack have been put on hold -- for now.
Deep under the north side of the bridge, Jack's living quarters are surrounded by Winn-Dixie paper bags and plastic containers used for storing water. In the middle of his area is an American flag. Organizers raising money for Jack describe him as a veteran.
Approached by a reporter Friday afternoon, Jack was going through his usual routine of spreading out dinner for his colony. He buys cat food with money he collects.
"I really don't have time to talk right now," Jack said, carrying a cardboard plate of cat food. "You see that sign? They're trying to kick me out of here."
When asked what prompted the homeless man's trespass warning, both FDOT and the Sheriff's Office initially directed the question to the other agency with neither offering explanation.
Brian Rick, a spokesman for FDOT, later said a "no trespassing" sign was installed along the bridge due to complaints about debris and human waste from local business owners and based on the observations from FDOT inspectors and a specific request from the Sheriff's Office.
Rick declined to allow a reporter to question FDOT contractors who prompted the inspection. He also would not offer the names of any complainants. A public records request for this information was unanswered by press time.
A statement Friday from sheriff's spokeswoman Becky Herrin said her office asked FDOT to put up "no trespassing" signs due to a request from an FDOT bridge inspector.
"In the past, we have done clean ups under the bridge in an effort to mitigate the problem, but the trash and cat feces continues to accumulate," she wrote in an email.
Herrin wrote that Jack has not been cleaning up his trash or the waste created by the felines. She also said Jack has refused offers for potential housing in Key West.
"He has, so far, declined all offers of assistance in moving or finding him another place to live," she wrote.
FDOT has asked deputies to hold off on evicting Jack while he gathers his belongings and looks for new housing.
The fundraising website can be found at https://www.wepay.com/donations/keep-a-roof-over-jack-the-cat-man-in-tav....