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Key West still has no plan to relocate homeless shelter – Keynoter

March 09, 2018 03:23 PM

The city of Key West continues to drag its heels when it comes to finding a new location for its overnight homeless shelter, which it must do to avoid more legal action with a neighboring condo complex.

“We had a little change of priorities in the urgency of housing for our residents after the storm,” said Mayor Craig Cates, referring to Hurricane Irma, which struck Sept. 10.

For a majority of city leaders, affordable housing is now at the top of the priority list, with the homeless shelter a lesser concern at the moment.

Instead of working on a plan to relocate the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter to a city-owned parcel, city leaders continue to press that the county needs to pitch in.

“It’s more of a county problem than a city problem,” said City Commissioner Billy Wardlow. “We pay taxes for the jail also.”

Since it was built in 2004, KOTS has remained next door to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office on College Road on Stock Island. Nearby condo owners sued the city in 2012 over the location and Sheriff Rick Ramsay last October gave Key West a year to vacate the property, saying he wants to build affordable housing for his staff.

Key West in 2013 agreed to settle the condo owners’ lawsuit by agreeing to relocate KOTS. For years, the city said it would end up down the way on College Road at a former Easter Seals building.

Now, the city, led by Cates, has decided to build affordable housing there instead. A referendum this Tuesday asks voters whether housing on those two acres may reach up to 40 feet high so more units can be built.

As of Thursday, of the 14,809 voters eligible to cast ballots, 262 did so through early voting and 1,275 mailed in ballots to the county Supervisor of Elections Office. Early voting continues Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the elections office at 530 Whitehead St. Tuesday, polls at all 10 city voting precincts are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“It’s not ideal to have an emergency shelter next to affordable housing,” City Commissioner Sam Kaufman said. “KOTS needs to be either renovated or refurbished. I don’t think that current facility is meant for long-term use anyway.”

At Tuesday’s city meeting, Commissioner Margaret Romero suggested the shelter go to Trumbo Road where a dog park currently stands, out near Little Hamaca Park off Government Road; or the Easter Seals property as previously agreed upon by a different commission in 2015.

Cates replied, “I’m personally not picking a parcel tonight.”

City Manager Jim Scholl said the county would have to be consulted on any plan to move KOTS to county-owned land.

“Right now, we’re trying to deal within our own municipality,” Scholl said. “We need to continue to provide that resource.”

No home for homeless shelter – Citizen

By Scott Unger Key West Citizen

March 9, 2018

The clock is ticking for the relocation of Key West’s homeless shelter and while city commissioners agree where the facility shouldn’t go, where it should go remains a mystery.

The city is overdue to move the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter, currently located on Monroe County Sheriff’s property on College Road, stemming from a 2013 agreement with the adjacent Sunset Marina condo association. Last October, the county also set a year deadline to move the facility, which Sheriff Rick Ramsay has long desired.

Mayor Craig Cates led a discussion at Tuesday’s commission meeting to gauge whether board members would like to move the facility to one of three parcels slated for an affordable housing project on College Road. The board agreed it shouldn’t be installed next to workforce housing and the county should work with the city to solve the problem they share.

Board member Clayton Lopez said homeless traverse the entire Keys and equated the region to a thermometer with Key West at the bottom.

“We’re at the bulb of that thermometer holding all the mercury,” Lopez said.

Billy Wardlow said the facility should either stay where it is or be relocated to Bayshore Manor and move those 16 residents to the soon-to-be-opened Poinciana Gardens Senior Living facility in Key West. The Monroe County Commission declined to pursue that option last month.

Sam Kaufman said the county should be approached without specifics, Margaret Romero suggested looking at viable county property, and Jimmy Weekley said it is tough to make a location decision until after the public referendum to raise height limits for the affordable housing project is decided, which will occur Tuesday.

Romero offered Little Hamaca Park and the dog park on Trumbo Road as potential sites, but Cates said specific locations will be discussed later and the point was to gauge board interest in moving the facility to the College Road parcels.

Monroe County Mayor David Rice agreed the city and county share the homeless problem and said he would be happy to discuss the situation with city leaders.

“I think that the county and the city should take a shared responsibility for essentially the cost … of providing the things that are necessary to deal with the homeless issue,” Rice said.

The two sides need to look at the issue holistically, as the county currently covers medical and jailing costs of homeless and has provided a site for the shelter, while the city maintains the facility, Rice said.

“We haven’t looked at it as a whole issue,” he said.

The city needs to find a solution quickly as the October deadline looms, according to Rice.

“The time is here that the city really has to come to grips with this issue,” he said. “I think there are a number of forces coming together that all together are shouting that something needs to be done.”

sunger@keysnews.com

https://keysnews.com/article/story/no-home-for-homeless-shelter/

SHAL report clears former executive director – Konk Life

By Pru Sowers

An investigation by the Southernmost Homeless Assistance League (SHAL) into mismanagement charges against its former executive director found no truth to the accusations, according to Rick Casey, the new chairman of the organization.

Casey and newly-named interim Executive Director Elicia Pintabona appeared before Key West City Commissioners on Jan. 17 to respond to charges made by Mike Tolbert, the former director of the Keys Overnight Homeless Shelter (KOTS), who was fired in September for reopening the Stock Island shelter after Hurricane Irma without Miller’s approval. Tolbert had written a letter to city officials accusing Miller of multiple issues including mismanaging money allocated to purchase bus tickets for homeless residents to leave the island, unsanitary food preparation areas and unhealthy living conditions for residents.

City commissioners voted in November not to formally investigate Tolbert’s charges but asked the SHAL board of directors to look into the claims. At the Jan. 17 commission meeting, Casey said a SHAL executive committee “conducted a complete review” that included interviews with Miller, Tolbert and an unscheduled site visit to KOTS, the city’s homeless shelter on Stock Island which SHAL has managed for the past five years. The executive committee then met two more times to come to a conclusion.

Casey said Tolbert’s allegations fell into three categories, including Tolbert’s personal opinions about KOTS operations, “exaggerations,” and claims that lacked support or specifics.

“We didn’t find those to be accurate. We found that to be inaccurate,” Casey told the commission, referring to Tolbert’s letter, He added, “This is the unfortunate result of a termination, which occurs sometimes.”

As to the most serious charge made by Tolbert, that Miller misappropriated funds that were to be used to purchase one-way bus tickets for any KOTS client that wished to leave Key West, Casey said it was “absolutely, utterly false.” He said the annual audit done of KOTS financial operations made its regular report this fall and found nothing illegal or irregular.

“Our review included no irregularities and a copy was provided to the city. Their review indicated no irregularities,” Casey told Konk Life.

Although SHAL’s investigation cleared Miller, city Commissioner Sam Kaufman still put some hard questions to Casey and Pintabona at the meeting. Kaufman pointed to a reported 17 cases of scabies, a painful skin disease, at KOTS, asking Casey to assure the city that a similar outbreak will not occur again. But Casey said he could not give that assurance. KOTS cannot track specific health issues of its clients because of medical privacy laws, he said.

Kaufman also asked that KOTS develop new protocols to inform city officials and the police department when a homeless person who has accepted bus fare returns to Key West. Under the KOTS rule, if a person who has accepted a one-way bus ticket comes back, he or she cannot stay at KOTS or receive any SHAL services. Currently, there is a list of 340 people who fall into that category. Approximately 19 have returned to Key West and asked SHAL for help, Pintabona said, which SHAL has sometimes given out of compassion.

But Kaufman worried that if SHAL was not informing the Key West Police Department about former SHAL clients who had been banned from KOTS but returned to the city, there could be legal issues. By law, if a homeless person has been banned from KOTS and other local social service organizations, they cannot be arrested for sleeping outdoors, even in public places.

“There are arrests that are being made that may be unlawful because the Key West Police Department doesn’t know that person can’t return to KOTS,” Kaufman, a lawyer, said, adding that he had defended one such person.

Pintabona said she would be reviewing SHAL’s policies as part of her new job as interim executive director, including implementing some type of appeals process for clients banned from KOTS. She also said she hoped that the new management at SHAL would help the organization repair its relationships with the city and other area homeless assistance organizations.

http://konknet.com/shal-report-clears-former-executive-director/

City manager: Key West’s homeless shelter is ‘deteriorating’ but safe, clean – Keynoter

By Gwen Filosa

January 20, 2018 11:07 AM

Key West’s overnight homeless shelter is deteriorating but it remains a safe, clean place for men and women who have no other place to sleep, according to City Manager Jim Scholl.

He made the comment in the face of allegations of unfit conditions from an employee who was fired during the Hurricane Irma disaster.

The shelter, owned by the city, is managed by the nonprofit Southernmost Homeless Assistance League for about $440,000 a year.

“I go out there periodically,” Scholl told the Key West City Commission this week. “I don’t ever call them and tell them I’m coming.”

On a recent visit to the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter, 5537 College Road, the shelter was properly stocked with blankets on a cold night and they were clean, he said.

“Everybody seemed to be in reasonably good spirits,” said Scholl. “KOTS is certainly not a hotel environment; we’re working very hard to be able to transition to a new facility. The deterioration on some of the elements out there is significant but it’s not to the point of total failure yet.”

The city is saving any money it would spend on KOTS for a new shelter. For years, the city has been saying it would relocate the shelter to another site on College Road to settle a lawsuit filed by nearby condo owners who don’t want it next door.

Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay has said it’s time for KOTS to move from county property next to his headquarters.

“It’s a fairly Spartan environment out there but it’s safe and when I’ve been out there it’s reasonably clean and functional,” Scholl said.

The shelter director was fired during the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Mike Tolbert said he opened the shelter against the opinion of then-SHAL Executive Director John Miller and that’s why he was fired.

Miller, who held the job for four years, would never discuss the issue publicly. He recently resigned and is leaving the Keys. That decision was made months ago and is not related to the investigation, said SHAL’s board chairman, Rick Casey.

Casey said the board took the allegations very seriously but after a complete review, including an interview with the fired employee, Tolbert, they all were determined to be false. The allegations were from a disgruntled employee who had been fired, he added.

“I know it’s happened to the city,” Casey said. “It’s the unfortunate result of a termination.”

City Commissioner Sam Kaufman said SHAL had never shared its policy with the city about barring people who have been given a free bus ticket out of the Keys.

Such people sign a form saying they won’t return to use the shelter. SHAL said of about 263 people on its voluntary relocation list from 2014 to now, 19 returned and were given some services, including a pregnant woman.

“We were snowbirding people on our money,” Elicia Pintabona, the new interim executive director of SHAL, said of the reason behind the policy. “It’s not a heartless thing. If it’s cold, we let them stay. It’s not a metal gate coming down for them.”

About 20 homeless people are on a suspension list for misbehavior, she said.

gfilosa@keynoter.com

 

City officials agree to fresh start – Citizen

by Mandy Miles

January 19, 2018

A long-awaited report on the city’s homeless shelter Wednesday evening answered some questions, but prompted others at the Key West City Commission meeting, where elected officials ultimately agreed to move forward with the new leaders of the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter, which is run by the Southernmost Homeless Assistance League.

Rick Casey, chairman of the SHAL board, presented a report and answered commissioners’ questions about prior allegations and accusations about the shelter that had come from a terminated former employee.

“During the hurricane evacuation, the organization’s shelter director was terminated,” Casey said. “That person subsequently made claims, in writing, to the SHAL board, the city commissioners and others. Four members of our executive committee did a complete review and in my opinion, the majority of the claims were an unfortunate result of an employee termination. The claims being made fell into the categories of personal opinions, exaggerations and unsubstantiated claims that lacked support or documentation.”

Casey said that an independent audit and review of the shelter’s finances showed that claims of financial mismanagement and misappropriation are patently false.

He acknowledged that there were 17 cases of scabies among KOTS occupants, a figure that Commissioner Sam

Kaufman said was unprecedented and too high. Although Kaufman wanted assurances that it would not happen again, Casey found support from other commissioners, who agreed that the skin ailment is easily spread in crowded areas.

But interim executive director Elicia Pintabona assured the commission that KOTS is now requiring users to shower before entering each evening.

“Now that the soup kitchen is providing us with meals, we’re able to require clients to shower before entering the facility each night,” Pintabona said, adding that all blankets and linens are properly washed with germicide.

City Manager Jim Scholl told the commission he had visited KOTS on a recent chilly evening, and said, “While KOTS is obviously not a hotel environment, and there is a deterioration of certain elements as the city works to move out of that location, there were enough blankets that were clean and inventoried, and while it’s a fairly spartan environment, it’s safe, reasonably clean and functional.”

One of Kaufman’s other concerns involved a list of people who had allegedly been banned from the shelter. Kaufman said his list showed 380 people had been banned, while Casey and Pintabona said the actual number was 25 people, five of whom are currently incarcerated.

People can be suspended from KOTS for varying amounts of time for rule violations that include violence, fighting and introduction of contraband such as alcohol or drugs into the facility. The longer list to which Kaufman was referring, Pintabona said, was a relocation list of people who had accepted a free bus ticket from SHAL to leave the Florida Keys.

In accepting those bus tickets, the recipients agree they will not utilize the services of KOTS if they return to Key West.

“We were snowbirding people,” Pintabona told the commission, meaning SHAL was paying for bus tickets for people who would return again and again when the weather elsewhere got cold.

Commissioner Margaret Romero said she had no problem with SHAL attaching such conditions to the free bus tickets they provide.

“I’m encouraged by what I’m hearing here tonight,” she said.

Kaufman agreed to pursue a positive working relationship with the new shelter managers, but emphasized the importance of keeping Key West Police and Monroe County Sheriff’s Office “in the loop” with regard to suspended individuals and those on the relocation list. Pintabona assured him she would do that, and added that KOTS doesn’t turn away a client who is brought to the shelter by a law enforcement officer.

In other City Commission activities….

 

 SHAL director resigns – Citizen

by Scott Unger

January 15, 2018

Southernmost Homeless Assistance League Executive Director John Miller has resigned from his position and will be replaced by Interim Director Elicia Pintabona, who was previously Deputy Director.

Miller is leaving the Keys to pursue other opportunities and the decision has nothing to do with allegations of mismanagement at Key West’s homeless shelter, which SHAL will address at Wednesday’s City Commission meeting, Pintabona said.

The agency, which manages the Keys Overnight temporary Shelter, will address claims of former employee Mike Tolbert who said the facility misused funds, had unsanitary food preparation and unsafe conditions under Miller’s watch.

The presentation has been delayed twice, most recently due to a scheduling error by City Manager Jim Scholl.

Pintabona started her SHAL employment as a case worker and was promoted to Outreach Director before taking over as Deputy Executive Director. She has a background in municipal government and studied psychology, according to a press release.

Miller, who served as director for four years, drew scrutiny from City Commissioner Sam Kaufman in 2016 for expanding the scope of programs at KOTS, outside the guidelines that mandate a place to sleep for the city’s destitute.

Miller’s budget included $14,600 in funding for a Housing First program and $6,000 for an off-site satellite office.

The agency would like to keep and expand other programs in the community going forward, but those decisions rely heavily on grant funding, Pintabona said.

Pintabona, who said she is “deeply rooted in the community and organization,” will pursue the Executive Director position permanently and said she is excited to continue SHAL’s mission.

“I definitely look forward to fostering good relationships within the community,” she said. “I look forward to a great year and all good things for SHAL.”

Miller was not able to be reached for comment.

sunger@keysnews.com

SHAL is accepting applications for its Executive Director position

Southernmost Homeless Assistance League (SHAL) is accepting applications for the Executive Director position. SHAL is a provider of shelter, case management and associated services for homeless people in Monroe County in support of their efforts to become self-sufficient.

A complete Executive Director job description is below. Please send resumes to the attention of SHAL board chair Richard Casey at rickcaseyjr@gmail.com.

Executive Director

The Executive Director shall have overall responsibility for the operation of the SHAL program of homeless services that includes managing the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter and the Outreach Program. This entails:

Administrative functions for the Board of Directors, including:

  • Assisting the Board in implementing a strategic plan and programs for the Board, as well as regularly updating the SHAL Chair and Board of Directors on the progress and pertinent issues under the plan and programs,
  • Preparing other policy and management documents for the Board, including the annual report and a SHAL calendar,
  • Developing additional sources of funding, including grants, in partnership with the Finance Committee,
  • Writing grant applications and contracts, as well as preparing the reports required by grants that were received or contracts that were concluding,
  • Ensuring quality and accuracy of reports,
  • Will be responsible for maintaining current bank account signature authorizations and the bank line of credit.

General management functions, including:

  • The Executive Director is responsible for the supervision of all SHAL employees and contractors but may delegate some of these responsibilities as he/she deems appropriate
  • Directing the implementation of policies and programs and monitoring the performance of these, including the performance of SHAL’s grants and contract with the City of Key West,
  • Managing the finances of SHAL in consultation with the Treasurer and Finance Committee
  • Managing the maintenance and storage of SHAL Documents including both electronic and paper records
  • Managing SHAL’s website, and other presence on the internet
  • Developing and supervising the implementation of the SHAL budget and ensuring compliance with the budget estimates.

Representing SHAL in the community and educating the Community on issues of homelessness, including:

  • Representing SHAL on the Monroe County Continuum of Care and other organizations involved in caring for homeless people,
  • Representing SHAL in the community, including relations with the media, in partnership with the Chair,
  • Representing SHAL before the City in partnership with the Chair,
  • Developing cooperative arrangements with other service agencies to leverage resources and improve the care of homeless people.

The Complicated Logic Behind Donating to a Food Pantry Rather than Giving a Hungry Person Cash – Kellogg Insight

If we were in need, we’d likely want money. So what accounts for that difference?

Based on the research of Juliana Schroeder, Adam Waytz and Nicholas Epley

Let’s say you are a policymaker who wants to fight the obesity epidemic. Should you give people the tools to make better decisions, such as listing calorie counts on menus? Or should you ban certain types of junk food altogether, perhaps forbidding the sale of jumbo-sized sugary sodas?

Banning junk food probably feels like it will have more of an impact. But now take the perspective of a regular citizen. Would you still prefer to have your drink choices dictated to you?

This demonstrates a common phenomenon: when people are on the receiving end of help, they tend to prefer something called agentic aid, which allows them to choose how to respond, says Adam Waytz, an associate professor of management and organizations at Kellogg. Yet people often prefer the opposite—paternalistic policies—when helping others.

New research by Waytz and colleagues suggests a possible explanation for both behaviors.

The researchers found that people show more support for paternalistic policies if they believe recipients are not very mentally capable—that is, if recipients seem unlikely to exercise self-control, plan ahead, and make thoughtful decisions. Yet participants tended to think more highly of their own mental capabilities than of others’, thus expressing stronger support for agentic aid for themselves.Research offers concrete strategies for appealing to donors who want to make an impact.“We need to be aware of how judgments of mental capacity inform our decisions,” Waytz says. “Choosing paternalistic policies for ourselves might not always be such a bad idea.”

Interestingly, his team also found the reverse: participants thought that people who received paternalistic aid are less mentally capable. The finding suggests that giving this type of help, such as offering food instead of money to the poor, may hurt the recipients’ public image.

Paternalistic Policies and Mental Capacity

Previous research suggests that giving cash directly to the poor is an effective way to improve their well-being.

“People seem to know what to do with their money,” Waytz says. For instance, recipients might need funds to start a business more than they need the food or job training offered by a charity.

But charities often give paternalistic aid, partly because it is the status quo. Donors also may fear that recipients will spend money frivolously. “We don’t necessarily trust the people who are in poverty to get themselves out,” Waytz says.

On the flip side, people may not like receiving paternalistic aid because they feel it threatens their personal freedom or harms their self-esteem.

Waytz and his collaborators, Juliana Schroeder of the University of California, Berkeley, and Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago, wondered if people’s beliefs about the recipients’ mental capacity also might explain these tendencies.

The researchers conducted an online study with 100 people through Amazon Mechanical Turk. Participants read about the real agentic charity GiveDirectly, which gives money to poor people in Kenya and Uganda.

Participants then rated the charity’s effectiveness, as well as elements of the recipients’ mental capacity, such as their self-restraint and ability to plan. Finally, participants received 25 cents and could choose to donate some or all of it to GiveDirectly or to the Red Cross, which provides more paternalistic aid. Participants keep any money they chose not to donate.

The participants’ view of recipients’ mental capability made a difference. When people gave the recipients higher scores for mental capability, they tended to think that GiveDirectly would do a better job of helping the poor. They also gave more money to that charity.

Another study found that making the recipients seem more capable boosts people’s support for agentic aid. In this online study, participants read about GiveDirectly’s aid to an anonymized African country dubbed Nia. One group read statistics about Nians stated in a way that emphasized their lack of mental capacity, for example, that 14 percent are illiterate. The other group read the same information stated in a way that emphasized their mental capacity, for example, that 86 percent of Nians are literate.

People in the second group rated GiveDirectly’s effectiveness about one point higher (on a seven-point scale) than those in the first group. They also donated more money to GiveDirectly than to the Red Cross, while participants who read the negative descriptions did the opposite.

Me vs. Them

Next, the researchers explored people’s support for paternalistic policies when applied to themselves versus others.

People might assume, “I can think for myself, I have good self-control,” Waytz says. But they might perceive others as mentally weaker, and deem a paternalistic policy a better fit.

To explore this, the team divided online study participants into two groups. One group was told to imagine that their governor was considering legislation on issues such as credit card debt, while the other group was asked to pretend they were the governor of Ohio and needed to decide which policies would most benefit residents. Participants had to choose between paternalistic measures, such as imposing maximum credit limits, and agentic measures, such as offering information about payment penalties.

The first group, which imagined they would be the recipients of new policies, supported the paternalistic option on average 1.77 times out of five. But the second group, which was acting as policymaker, picked that option 2.36 times out of five.

The Turkey Test

Yet, despite our rosiest visions of ourselves, our self-restraint does fail sometimes. So the team pounced on study participants at a vulnerable moment: Thanksgiving.

“Virtually all of us have experienced a self-control lapse,” Waytz says. “After you just gorged yourself, presumably, on turkey and pie and potatoes, then your perception of yourself would be lowered in that regard.”

The researchers sent a survey to 100 participants a couple days before Thanksgiving; another 98 people received it Thanksgiving night. Recipients answered questions about the effectiveness of paternalistic and agentic policies to promote healthy eating, such as making restaurant portion sizes smaller versus running ads about the issue.

Then people rated their agreement with statements about their mental capacity, such as “Everything I do is on purpose” and “I have excellent self-control.”

Not surprisingly, the participants’ average rating of their mental strength dropped from 4.55 out of 7 before Thanksgiving to 4.17 afterward. At the same time, the estimates of paternalistic policies’ effectiveness rose from 3.50 to 3.99.

In other words, the post-holiday group was more willing to admit, “Okay, yeah, I guess paternalistic policies are somewhat useful, even for me,” Waytz says.

So if a manager wants to enforce strict workplace rules—say, blocking social-media websites—they might succeed if such measures are suggested the day after people have been glued to their Facebook and Twitter feeds during a news scandal.

Erasing a Stigma

What about the reverse? Does the type of aid that people receive affect how others perceive their mental capacity?

An online experiment suggests it does. If participants learned that an organization had provided refugees with food or shelter, rather than cash, they believed the refugees were mentally weaker. And they thought recipients were more likely to waste money on drugs and alcohol.

When charities offer people paternalistic help, others “are going to infer that those people don’t know how to think for themselves,” Waytz says. Thus, organizations could make a dent in the stigma surrounding the poor by giving agentic aid.

The study does not tell us whether one form of aid is always better. It depends on the situation, Waytz says.

For instance, default enrollment in company retirement plans—a paternalistic tactic—tends to result in higher participation. But research about the poor suggests that “the best way to help someone in need is just give them money and get out of the way,” he says.

So are people overestimating their own mental abilities or underestimating others’? Both likely play a role, Waytz says, but the latter effect may be stronger because people do not know much about others’ efforts to plan ahead and make considered decisions.

“You walk around with a spotlight on your own mind at all times,” he says. “We underestimate others’ mental capacity because we don’t see all the times that others have been thoughtful.”

https://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/article/the-complicated-logic-behind-donating-to-a-food-pantry-rather-than-giving-a-hungry-person-cash

Homelessness isn’t a lifestyle choice – Keynoter

(editor’s note: this essay that appeared under the Keynoter’s Other Voices banner was written by SHAL Executive Director John Miller)

Housing needs to be followed up with services

By John Miller

Is it true that your typical homeless person is just a drunk, living off of handouts and drinking to oblivion each night? When I started working with homeless persons 20 years ago, we often explained that the average homeless person wasn’t that at all. It was a fourth grader.

Homeless persons have failed to pull their own weight, failed to meet society’s requirements, failed society altogether. Right? Or maybe, society has failed them.

We’ve always had homeless people in America. For centuries. It’s just part of our civilization, right? No.

Homelessness as a prevalent problem began around 40 years ago, when the “Community Mental Health” movement began and many thousands of patients were released from our substandard mental hospitals onto the streets to fend for themselves. Soon larger groups of the unemployed, the unhealthy, substance abusers and others joined the tide, and “street people” became a common sight in our urban and non-urban areas.

Over-strapped, Spartan “shelters” were set up, warehousing humans who just couldn’t cut it.  The attitude was that they should pick themselves up by their bootstraps and get a job. Find a house. Rejoin society. But this is very hard to do when you’re hungry, or poor, or tired. Or if you’re a crime victim or a domestic violence victim. Or if you’re unskilled, or sick, or mentally ill, or on probation.

And there is rarely a helping hand to get you back on your feet. Few resources. And some in society may like to assuage any responsibility for the situation with the old saw that this is what people want.

But no one wants to be homeless. It’s a violent, frightening, life-threatening, painful and uncomfortable existence—especially in the Keys. Imagine walking a mile or more to use the bathroom, walking everywhere in the blistering sun, with insect bites and loss of dignity to punctuate your day. There is little support for health or comfort. And tomorrow might just be the same.

The Services First approach used for decades argued that the very limited resources wouldn’t be effective until a person had totally stopped drinking and taking drugs. Giving people assistance just made them dependent. Members of general society with no experience with homelessness and their particular list of problems just knew that “these people” won’t “get well” until they learn to provide for themselves and become self-sufficient.

But overcoming personal demons, getting back to health, obtaining necessary skills or escaping predators can be nearly impossible for most people while living on the street or in an institutional setting. Services First has become increasingly expensive, ineffective and sometimes even exacerbates the problem.

We know the obvious cure for homelessness. The cure has a 100% effective rate. It’s housing.

That’s the good news. The better news is that housing someone first, and following up with needed services, called Housing First, is cheaper, more effective, and works right away! It is the industry’s best practice and works 90% or more of the time according to studies. It lowers the populations in the jails, courts and the emergency rooms. It helps clean the city streets and the residential neighborhoods. It lowers homelessness. And it is the humane way for a caring society to proceed. It’s a hand up, not a handout.

The Southernmost Homeless Assistance League has operated the homeless shelter on Stock Island for over 6 years with a small staff that works to address homelessness one client at a time. SHAL case managers work hard to get clients healthcare, employment, identity documents, and counseling. The shelter staff works hard to provide a clean, safe, overnight rest; a hot shower; and a couple hot meals a day.

And if the Keys turn out to be an unsustainable place for someone to become self-sufficient, SHAL sometimes works to provide a bus ticket to a better location. SHAL is a nonprofit and accepts donations of items (clothing, washers & dryers) and clothing and cash to support our clients’ needs that may be tax deductible.

And while the majority of Shelter residents are very short-term, we do work very hard and cost effectively with hundreds of clients each year to get them the hand up they need. Because no one wants to be homeless.

John Miller is Executive Director of the Southernmost Homeless Assistance League, which operates the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter on Stock Island. After a career in business management, John Miller has been running nonprofits for the past 20 years, with a focus on housing and homelessness.

Elf Day at the Shelter – Konk Life

On Tuesday December 19th, the Southernmost Homeless Assistance League hosted an “Elf Day” at the homeless shelter on Stock Island. Deputy Executive Director Elicia Pintabona partnered with Hervé Thomas of the Monroe County Firefighters Benevolent Association to wrap donated toys that were collected for Operation Irma Big Pine Key Santa Claus. The idea originated from the Irma Big Pine Key Facebook page which was created on September 10th of this year by Monroe County Firefighter Hervé Thomas. This page was created strictly for hurricane and recovery efforts related to Big Pine Key and adjacent islands.

In response to a growing number of people asking if something was going to be done for the kids, operation Irma Big Pine Key Santa Claus was originally intended to deliver toys to a few family who had been severely hit by Irma (lost houses, etc). The original plan was to serve 6 or 7 kids. A fund raiser was organized on the Facebook page by Mr. Thomas, and after a great response from the public, the reach of the project progressively grew from the original 3 families to 11 families, and from 6 children to 32 children!!! Elicia Pintabona saw an opportunity to help and offered the services of the SHAL staff and clients to wrap the donated gifts during an “Elf Day”. Present at Elf Day were Deputy Executive Director Elicia Pintabona, Case Managers Amy Yancich and Teresa Wallace, and Lead Monitor Chris Sparrow, along with over half a dozen clients that came to volunteer.

“Irma Big Pine Key Santa Delivery Tour” will be done aboard the “Santa’s Express” – a Monroe County Fire Rescue Engine specially assigned to this exceptional detail by Deputy Chief Steve Hudson. The Fire Engine will be driven and manned by Volunteers from the Monroe County Firefighters Benevolent Association, which was pivotal in the organization of this operation. Special thanks to Fire Chief Jim Callahan, Deputy Chief Steve Hudson, Battalion Chief David Sebben, Captain Andrea Thompson, Lieutenant Carlos Javier, Firefighters Hervé Thomas and Mary Napoli, and Volunteers Firefighters Sean Hemphill and Tim Farley.

SHAL would like to wish everyone a happy and healthy Holiday Season!!!! Keys Strong!

http://konknet.com/elf-day-at-the-shelter/