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City of Key West homeless shelter operating agreement to end September 30th, 2020

August 4, 2020

Key West, FL — The City of Key West has notified the Southernmost Homeless Assistance League (SHAL) that its contract to operate the city’s homeless shelter will end on September 30, 2020. Known as KOTS, the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter is on property adjacent to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office facilities on Stock Island. Until earlier this year, KOTS provided overnight shelter to up to 140 homeless adults, but expanded to 24-hour operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

SHAL, an IRS-recognized nonprofit, has operated KOTS under a month-to-month contract with the city for nearly nine years. According to SHAL Chairman Peter Dswonyk, “SHAL has proudly and effectively operated KOTS since it was asked to do so by the city in October 2011. While we are understandably disappointed with this action, we will of course support any decision made by the Key West City Commission.”

Dswonyk added, “Our directors and staff are working hard to prepare to turn over KOTS operations to a new, as yet unidentified, entity. We are committed to ensuring the smoothest possible transition with minimal impact to KOTS clients and everyone else in the community.”

To improve the quality of life for both homeless persons and other members of the community, SHAL provides its clients with shelter, outreach services to assist them along a path to self-sufficiency, and advocacy on behalf of the homeless in Monroe County. Prior to operating KOTS, SHAL served as the Continuum of Care (an entity required for federal funding) for Monroe County, coordinating services among and distributing funds to the many nonprofit entities supporting homeless persons in the community. SHAL’s directors are carefully examining its mission and capabilities to determine the organization’s future.

Contact: Peter Dswonyk

(305) 923-3689

City gets look at new KOTS plan – Citizen

By PRU SOWERS Key West Citizen

January 17, 2020

The Key West City Commission received its first look Wednesday at plans for a renovated homeless shelter on Stock Island, but still needs to find the money to fund its construction.

City Engineering Director Steve McAlearney presented a draft design of a new Keys Overnight Shelter that stays in its current location next to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office but would be moved back from College Road to create a buffer between KOTS clients and neighboring property owners.

The design won a thumbs-up from commissioners and a variety of homeless advocates. It will be built out of pre-fabricated metal on stilts. A walkway will lead clients from College Road through a heavily-landscaped area to the building, which will have space for residents to gather under the building. Neighbors and the next-door Monroe County Sheriff’s Office have complained that KOTS clients wait along College Road for the shelter to open in the evening, presenting both aesthetic and safety issues.

An Americans With Disabilities Act ramp will lead up to the elevated building, which will have beds for 56 women and 88 men in separate quarters. Offices, a kitchen and an air-conditioned gathering room are also included in the design, which will allow for a 24-hour facility instead of the current overnight-only shelter if city commissioners decide to expand services.

The current KOTS facility is in poor shape, said City Manager Greg Veliz and needs to be replaced as soon as possible.

“As far as it’s useful life, it’s very bad,” he told commissioners. “Now, we’re just holding it together.”

The challenge now is where to find the $3 million McAlearney it will cost to build the new shelter. There is no money set aside in this year’s budget for the project. However, there is a private individual who has said he will match an unnamed amount of money raised for the building, Veliz said.

There may be another approximately $1.7 million available from the Key West Affordable Housing Trust Fund that can be put toward the project, Budget Director Mark Finigan said. If the funding comes together, construction could begin sometime this year.

City and Monroe County government officials hammered out an agreement last year to build a new facility at its current location.

In other workshop discussion…

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Supreme Court Upholds Ruling Prohibiting Bans on Public Sleeping

(December 16, 2019, Washington, DC) – This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition by the city of Boise to review the case Martin v. Boise (formerly Bell v. Boise). This leaves in place earlier rulings by the 9th Circuit that homeless persons cannot be punished for sleeping outside on public property in the absence of adequate alternatives. People experiencing unsheltered homelessness—at least in the 9th Circuit—can sleep more safely without facing criminal punishment for simply trying to survive on the streets.

The Supreme Court’s decision, issued without comment, means the April 2019 ruling is binding in the 9th Circuit, covering nine states including most of the western states, and carries national influence. The ruling also means that homeless individuals who have received criminal citations under Boise’s policy can now proceed with their constitutional claims against the City. The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (The Law Center), which filed the case in 2009 with co-counsel Idaho Legal Aid Services and Latham & Watkins LLP, hails this decision as being essential to encouraging cities to propose constructive alternatives to homelessness.

“We’re thrilled that the Court has let the 9th Circuit decision stand so that homeless people are not punished for sleeping on the streets when they have no other option,” said Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director at the Law Center. “But ultimately, our goal is to end homelessness through housing—which is effective and saves taxpayer dollars—so that no one has to sleep on the streets in the first place. We hope that the 9th Circuit decision will help communities find the political will to put that housing in place. Housing, not handcuffs, is what ends homelessness.”

The Martin v. Boise case challenged Boise’s enforcement of its Camping and Disorderly Conduct Ordinances against persons experiencing homelessness—those who need to sleep in public in the absence of adequate housing or shelter.  Last year, a panel of the 9th Circuit held that “as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.” Following that ruling, the city of Boise petitioned the entire 9th Circuit to rehear the case (“en banc”), which was rejected in April. Boise then asked the Supreme Court to hear the case and today the Court rejected that request, thereby affirming that within the 9th Circuit, “the Eighth Amendment preclude[s] the enforcement of a statute prohibiting sleeping outside against homeless individuals with no access to alternative shelter.”

“Despite the doom and gloom of the appellants and those who joined them in filing amici, this ruling is a win for everyone,” said Eric Tars, Legal Director at the Law Center. “Cities can still address encampments on their streets, they just have to do it in constructive ways that reduce harm and actually help end homelessness. Public health and public safety are best maintained by making sure everyone has an adequate place to live, not by putting homeless people in jail or giving them fines and fees they can’t pay.”

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court has let the 9th Circuit’s holding stand that the Constitution ‘prohibits the imposition of criminal penalties for sitting, sleeping, or lying outside on public property for homeless individuals who cannot obtain shelter,’” said Michael Bern, lead pro bono counsel from Latham & Watkins, who argued the case before the 9th Circuit.  “As the Department of Justice recognized earlier in this case, ‘[c]riminalizing public sleeping in cities with insufficient housing and support for homeless individuals does not improve public safety outcomes or reduce the factors that contribute to homelessness.’ With today’s decision, we hope that cities can redirect their efforts to identifying meaningful and constitutional solutions to the problem of homelessness.”

This case is part of a nationwide movement against the criminalization of homelessness, spearheaded by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and more than 1,000 groups and individuals who have endorsed the Housing Not Handcuffs Campaign.

The Supreme Court’s decision can be read here. 9th Circuit court’s decision can be read here, and the en banc denial here.

City officials approve KOTS agreement – Citizen

ROB O’NEAL/The Citizen
Surrounded by the ocean, luxury condos, apartments and the Monroe County Detention Center, The Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter (KOTS) is located at center right will be reconfigured to minimize impacts to neighbors.

September 19, 2019

The Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter on Stock Island opened in 2004.

Key West officials on Tuesday approved an agreement that will allow the city’s homeless shelter — Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter, or KOTS — to remain on the Sheriff’s Office College Road property.

In return for permission to keep KOTS where it is, the city will give the Sheriff’s Office a 1.1-acre parcel along Trumbo Road on which Sheriff Rick Ramsay can build up to 40 housing units, according to the agreement that City Commissioners approved at their Tuesday night meeting. Vice Mayor Sam Kaufman presided over the meeting, as Mayor Teri Johnston was absent.

The 1.1-acre parcel on Trumbo Road is the lot that sat vacant for years, often housing defunct police cars. In recent years, residents have spruced up the lot and turned it into a dog park, but with the understanding and warning that the parcel has always been eyed for housing. The dog park users agreed to enjoy the park while it lasted, knowing it would not be a permanent feature of the neighborhood.

The city owned property on Trumbo Road will be the site of up to 40 affordable housing units for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Offce

In the KOTS agreement, the city also has agreed, “when funds become available,” to rebuild and reconfigure KOTS to increase the distance between the neighboring stilted townhomes that are part of Sunset Marina and Condominiums and to minimize the impact to the neighboring townhomes.

But it was a Trumbo Road neighbor who addressed the commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting.

Jed Molleston, representing the Steam Plant Condominium Association, told the commission that he and his group hadn’t known about the agreement and plans for the 1-acre parcel “‘til we read about it in the paper on Saturday,” Molleston said.

“My request would be that this vote be delayed until we can have our attorneys look at it, so we can see where we really are and whether we need to oppose the matter …” Molleston said. “We would welcome sheriff’s employees, as long as there’s an appropriate plan in place for that housing.

“We at the Steam Plant desire to participate in the future of this project. We desire to have our input heard since we are the only neighbor there and we do have a substantial investment in that property.”

The temporary dog park next to the Steamplant Condominiums will be given to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office to build up to 40 affordable housing units.

City Attorney Shawn Smith told the commissioners and Molleston that the Sheriff’s Office will have to go through the same development, permitting and construction process as any other major development would require, so there will be ample opportunity for public input as the project proceeds. Given the property’s location in Old Town, Smith said, the city’s historic preservation board will also have to approve whatever goes onto that parcel.

The commission did not postpone the vote, as Molleston requested, so the Steam Plant Condominium Association’s attorneys could review the agreement. And Commissioner Jimmy Weekley emphasized that the people who created the impromptu dog park on that 1.1-acre parcel vowed to relinquish the property when it was tapped to become workforce housing, a priority that has long been on residents’ radar.

The agreement ends a years-long saga between the Sheriff’s Office, the city and Monroe County that saw a variety of options presented at various times to house the city’s homeless population.

In other commission news, a report on the current condition and possible future uses of the Stock Island Landfill, or Mount Trashmore as it’s locally known, was postponed until the city’s next meeting on Oct. 1.

City Manager Greg Veliz also honored his mentor, successor and friend, retiring City Manager Jim Scholl, who humbly accepted Veliz’s praise and gratitude, along with Smith’s appreciation for the 10 years that he has had the opportunity to sit next to Scholl at City Commission meetings while the city has benefitted from Scholl’s leadership and integrity.


How a federal court ruling on Boise’s homeless camping ban has rippled across the West – Idaho Statesman

full article at

Mark Hennessy and Susan Pappas roll up their sleeping bags and hide them in the bushes. It’s a dusty summer morning along the Boise River Greenbelt, and it’s legal for them to be here now. But if there’s evidence they slept on the riverbank last night, they’re in trouble.

Suddenly, they see a bike cop on his morning rounds. They try to look inconspicuous.

“What’s up, guys?” says Boise police Sgt. Craig Nixon.

They say they’re fishing; luckily, Hennessy has a rod. Pappas, at least, is safe from a criminal citation, because the women’s shelter was full. But Hennessy has been ticketed before, including recently for having a jar of pickles (no glass in public parks).

A few years ago, this conversation could have gone differently: Boise police issued almost 300 citations for camping in a public place in 2015, but just 39 last year. Nixon let the couple go.

Things have changed here — and across the West — because of a lawsuit that started nearby. Seven homeless people took Boise to court, and a year ago this week, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a landmark ruling. It said that if a city doesn’t have enough shelter beds available, enforcing a camping ban like Boise’s violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Boise is contesting the ruling, which could end up before the Supreme Court. But for now, the ruling has roiled politics and upended policies across the nine states in the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction, from Arizona to Alaska.

full article at

County gives Key West additional year for KOTS – Citizen

By Timothy O’Hara Key West Citizen

July 19, 2018

ROB O'NEAL/The Citizen KOTS is comprised of trailers and quonset huts and is funded by the city of Key West, Monroe County and private donors.

ROB O’NEAL/The Citizen KOTS is comprised of trailers and quonset huts and is funded by the city of Key West, Monroe County and private donors.

The Monroe County Commission agreed to give the city of Key West a one year extension to move the homeless shelter off the Sheriff’s Office property on Stock Island.

Last September, the County Commission gave the city a year to move KOTS (Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter) off the Sheriff’s Office headquarters and jail property because Sheriff Rick Ramsay wants to place 32 units of housing for his workers there.

In the past 10 months, the city has struggled to find a new location for KOTS. The city initially proposed moving the shelter to a piece of property on College Road, but the city plans to use that property only for affordable housing.

Earlier this year, Mayor Craig Cates asked the County Commission to move KOTS to the Bayshore Manor senior housing property on College Road and move those residents to a senior care facility currently under construction at Poinciana Plaza in Key West. The County Commission rejected that proposal.

City Manager Jim Scholl attended Wednesday’s County Commission meeting to ask the county for an extension. He told the commission that KOTS “is a valuable resource” to the county and the city, as it provides housing for people “who have nowhere to go.”

“We’re just not ready. We’re not there,” Scholl said. “It is a high priority to come up with a solution. Right now, we don’t have a solution.”

Scholl reminded the Commissioners that the sheriff and the county have to work with the city on the sheriff’s housing project. The sheriff’s property falls within Key West limits and the city has to not only approve the project, but also a re-zoning, future land use map and comprehensive plan change, and height limit change.

Until the city finds a new KOTS location, the city would be willing to work with the sheriff to house his employees on the city’s proposed 104-unit workforce housing project on College Road on Stock Island, which is currently in the planning stages. The city would be willing to give the sheriff’s employees a “priority set- aside,” Scholl said.

Ramsay said he could support an extension but it has to be for a finite period of time.

The Sheriff’s Office is struggling to fill open positions, he said. The Marathon jail has been closed since before Hurricane Irma because the sheriff does not have enough employees to staff it. The sheriff’s office currently has 50 vacant positions including 11 patrol deputies, 16 corrections deputies and two Trauma Star pilots, Ramsay said.

Ramsay has secured $1 million in funding from the Salvation Army and has a “verbal commitment” from Habitat for Humanity to build roughly 32 apartments, he said.

He is concerned that extending the lease indefinitely would impact those commitments, he said.

“At the end of the day, public safety has to be number one,” Ramsay said. “I am coming forward with solutions and partners. … I have investors who are putting their money where their mouths are. Those partners won’t be there forever.”

The County Commission voted unanimously to the one-year extension, but wants a monthly progress report from the city and county staff.

Commissioner Danny Kolhage called moving the shelter a “difficult thing to do” and reminded his fellow commissioners about the impacts on county owned property within the Key West city limits before KOTS existed.

People were camped out on Higgs Beach and sleeping on county owned property near the airport.

“County property was affected by the homeless,” Kolhage said.

KOTS future remains uncertain – Citizen


July 13, 2018

ROB O'NEAL/The Citizen
Comprised of quonset-style huts at center, the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter opened in 2004 on the property of the Monroe County Sheriff's Office on Stock Island. The city of Key West is asking the county to extend its lease for KOTS; however, Sheriff Rick Ramsay wants to use the space for employee housing.

ROB O’NEAL/The Citizen Comprised of quonset-style huts at center, the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter opened in 2004 on the property of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office on Stock Island. The city of Key West is asking the county to extend its lease for KOTS; however, Sheriff Rick Ramsay wants to use the space for employee housing.

The future of Key West’s homeless shelter is up in the air and all options, including closure, are on the table, according to city officials.

Last September, the Monroe County Commission voted unanimously to give the city a year to move the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter out of the Sheriff’s Office property on College Road. Earlier this month, city officials filed a formal request with the county to extend the deadline, which the commission will decide when it meets Wednesday, July 18, at 9 a.m. at the Marathon Government Center.

Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay has secured $1 million in funding from the Salvation Army and has a “verbal commitment” from Habitat for Humanity to build roughly 32 apartments, he said. He is concerned that extending the lease indefinitely would impact those commitments, he said.

“I could be in support of a reasonable extension if there was a plan and a timetable,” Ramsay said. “I have commitments to fund this without using taxpayer money. This is timely.”

Earlier this year, Key West Mayor Craig Cates proposed moving KOTS to the nearby Bayshore Manor senior living center and moving those residents to a senior center. However, the County Commission owns that property too and were opposed to relocating the seniors at Bayshore Manor.

The sheriff, City Manager Jim Scholl, County Administrator Roman Gastesi and County Attorney Bob Shillinger met recently to try and work out an arrangement, but the city has yet to identify a viable piece of property for KOTS.

The city is looking primarily at city- and county-owned properties because obtaining new property would require a public referendum, but each parcel presents unique challenges, according to Scholl.

“The properties in the city limits are few, one or two, that could, if they’re not zoned already that could be zoned and approved,” Scholl said. “There’s more properties outside the city limits that haven’t been fully vetted.”

Scholl declined to mention specific parcels until a plan can be agreed upon by the city, county and Sheriff’s Office. KOTS has been at the Sheriff’s Office property for 14 years.

“It immediately becomes political, so we need to be very cautious at looking at objectively what will work,” he said. “We’ve got to have three parties agree.”

Regardless of funding and plans, Scholl estimates it will be at least a year until construction can begin on housing on the Sheriff’s Office property due to current zoning restrictions.

The property currently isn’t zoned for residential units, has a 25-foot height limit that would require a public referendum to raise and the base flood elevation would be very high on the low lying parcel, Scholl said.

“It’s not impossible, it’s not insurmountable, but it will take over a year to get through that process,” he said. “(Ramsay) needs to look at other options for other properties that would work.”

The two sides could reach a compromise using some of the planned 104-unit affordable housing project the city is pursuing on College Road for Sheriff’s Office  employees, Scholl said.

Any plans moving forward will hinge on the county commission’s vote on the extension request next week and if it’s voted down, the city may be left with only one option, according to Scholl.

“Close KOTS,” he said of the consequences of a no vote. “We won’t have a temporary overnight shelter; that’s the only option at that point.”

City seeks extension on KOTS – Citizen

By Scott Unger, Key West Citizen

July 6, 2018

City of Key West officials will formally ask the Monroe County Commission for an extension to move the city’s homeless shelter, as plans for its future remain up in the air.

Moving the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter from Monroe County Sheriff’s Office headquarters and jail on College Road on Stock Island has been a priority for years, but no firm plans can be executed before the county’s Sept. 27 deadline to move the facility, according to City Manager Jim Scholl.

“We still have options but we won’t have them anywhere near ready to go in time for the expiration of our limit with the county commission,” Scholl told city commissioners Tuesday.

Even before the county gave the city a one-year deadline, the city was obligated to move the facility, stemming from a settlement agreement from a 2011 lawsuit filed by the Sunset Marina condo association alleging that KOTS “constituted a public and private nuisance.” The agreement was signed in December 2013.

The city previously planned to move KOTS to the former Easter Seals property on College Road, but is using the 2.62 acres of city-owned property there for an affordable housing project cited as an urgent need in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

In February, the county commission declined to move forward on a proposal to move the homeless shelter to the Bayshore Manor senior living facility and move its 16 residents to the soon-to-be-opened Poinciana Gardens Senior Living facility in Key West.

There will be two items concerning KOTS on the Board of County Commissioners July 18 agenda. One will discuss building housing at the location and another will discuss the termination date for use of the facility, according to County Administrator Roman Gastesi.

How the board will vote is unclear, but county officials feel a shelter is needed somewhere and want to work with the city and Sheriff’s Office to reach a solution, Gastesi said.

“I think overall we understand that a shelter is needed. I don’t know if collectively the county commission feels that way but I guess that’s a start,” he said. “We all have to be part of the solution; we have to work together.”

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.”