September 19, 2019
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.
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.”
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.
By Timothy O’Hara Key West Citizen
July 19, 2018
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.
By TIMOTHY O’HARA and SCOTT UNGER
July 13, 2018
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
While SHAL is recovering quickly from Hurricane Irma, St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen continues to support the hungry in our community, as it has for over 30 years. Director Mary Leen is a volunteer who tirelessly organizes, coordinates and cooks meals for poor and homeless individuals is a fundamental asset to SHAL, feeding its sheltered hungry, and homeless clients.
Please congratulate Mary for this recognition.
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.
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.