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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.

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

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.

SHAL announces appointment of new Executive Director

The Board of Directors of the Southernmost Homeless Assistance League (SHAL) is happy to announce the appointment of Elicia Pintabona as Interim Executive Director. Elicia is a longtime employee of SHAL, having been a case manager, Outreach Director and most recently Deputy Executive Director. Elicia has a background in municipal government and education in psychology with extensive leadership and supervisory experience. She has been instrumental in expanding SHAL’s outreach and case management activities, as well as improvements in operations at the SHAL Shelter, over the last four years.

Elicia replaces John Miller, who after 4 years with SHAL is leaving the Keys. SHAL is thankful for the positive changes and hard work Mr. Miller has provided during his tenure.

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.”

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!

Special delivery for children affected by Irma – Citizen

December 21, 2017

ROB O'NEAL/The Citizen Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter residents help wrap Christmas presents for the 'Operation Irma Big Pine Key Santa Claus Event.'

ROB O’NEAL/The Citizen Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter residents help wrap Christmas presents for the ‘Operation Irma Big Pine Key Santa Claus Event.’

Santa Claus will trade in his sleigh for a fire engine this weekend to surprise 32 Big Pine Key children hit hardest by Hurricane Irma.

Members of the Monroe County Firefighters Benevolent Association will visit 11 families, nominated by the community, on Friday and Saturday, surprising the children with gifts they asked for from Santa, according to organizer Herve Thomas.

Firefighters will visit the houses first under the guise of a routine check, talking to the kids and asking them their names. Once identified, they will radio to Santa in the truck, who will bring the gifts.

“It’s going to be a riot,” Thomas said.

Toys, bikes and scooters are among the gifts, which also include a mini- recliner requested by a child who wants to relax like his dad, Thomas said.

The idea for the giveaway began on the Irma Big Pine Key Facebook page, which Thomas set up shortly after the storm to give residents a place to connect. About a month ago, a Christmas discussion started and Thomas decided to organize a giveaway.

“It was so obvious that I just formulated what everyone was thinking,” he said.

Thomas asked the community to nominate the children of three families hit the hardest, but response was so great the number quickly grew to 12 families and 32 children.

“The response was…way bigger than what I thought,” he said. “We ended up with a huge response from the public.”

Over 60 donors responded, with several offering to sponsor an entire family.

Bucktooth Rooster restaurant will provide a Christmas cake and meeting spot for several families who are staying outside Big Pine due to home loss from Irma and the Southernmost Homeless Assistance League wrapped the presents with help from clients.

Although Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter resident William Messick hadn’t wrapped a present in many years, he said it was like riding a bike and was happy to provide assistance.

“It’s a good thing to do for the kids that don’t have,” Messick said. “Got to do something good for the kids.”

SHAL Deputy Executive Director Elicia Pintabona saw the discussion on Facebook and looked for a way to help, she said.

“I saw a need and a way that we could give back to the community too,” Pintabona said. “Our clients have limited ways that they can give back but giving their time is a good way. These are kids that lost everything.”

The event couldn’t happen without the help of county Fire Chief Jim Callahan and Deputy Chief Steve Hudson, who provided a fire engine for Santa to deliver the goods and the outpouring of support from community members, which Thomas called “phenomenal.”

“It was huge man, incredible input from the people,” he said.

Elf Day at the Shelter

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 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.

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



Tampa Bay Rays Baseball Foundation Donates to SHAL

On Monday November 13th, the Tampa Bay Rays Baseball Foundation was pleased to present various community groups in the Florida Keys with grants totaling $100,000. The grants will be used to support the Florida Keys and the non-profits that serve them. In addition to the grant that was awarded to SHAL, the Rays Baseball Foundation dropped off various supplies to the homeless shelter which were immediately put to good use by Chris Sparrow and his staff. We would like to express our sincere gratitude and appreciation to the Tampa Bay Rays Baseball Foundation for their generous support! 

City won’t investigate charges against homeless shelter – Konk Life



Editor’s note: SHAL is slated to present its annual audit and its response to the allegations described here at the City Commission meeting on Tuesday, December 5th, 2017.

Despite claims of fraud and unsanitary conditions at the Stock Island homeless shelter made by the fired former manager of the facility, Key West City Commissioners voted 5-2 on Nov. 8 not to investigate the charges.

Commissioner Sam Kaufman, who has complained about management at the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter (KOTS) in the past, proposed that City Manager Jim Scholl investigate claims made by Mike Tolbert, the former KOTS director who was fired in September for reopening KOTS after Hurricane Irma without the approval of shelter operator Southernmost Homeless Assistance League (SHAL). Tolbert, who has worked at the shelter for the past four years, then wrote a blistering letter to Kaufman and Scholl accusing SHAL Executive Director John 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. Tolbert said he had seen 17 cases of scabies, a painful, contagious skin condition, at KOTS before he was fired.

“Those mattresses, you wouldn’t let your dog sleep on. They’re torn up. They’re trashed,” Tolbert told commissioners.

“The allegations are very serious. We’ve known for some time that there have been issues with the operator of our homeless shelter,” Kaufman said, adding that the city needs to “consider alternatives” to SHAL managing the facility.

But he was unable to convince his colleagues to take up Tolbert’s claims against SHAL. While Commissioner Billy Wardlow said he might consider an investigation, the fact that Tolbert came forward with his complaints only after he was fired was suspicious.

“I think Mr. Tolbert should have brought this up four years ago when he was working there instead of after he got fired,” Wardlow said.

And Commissioner Margaret Romero said that the city did not have the expertise to investigate fraud complaints. If there is suspicious of fraud, it should be raised with the Florida State Attorney’s office, she said, adding that the Monroe County Health Department should investigate any health complaints.

“At this point, for us to jump in and investigate fraud or health conditions or other things, I think that is out of our realm,” Romero said.

City Manager Scholl said he has “had discussions” with SHAL in the past about its management of KOTS. SHAL is currently undergoing an accounting audit and Scholl will forward a written report from the SHAL board of directors to commissioners when the audit is completed.

“If that’s not sufficient, then we’ll see what the next step needs to be,” Scholl said.

But Kaufman was not satisfied.

“If the allegations are untrue and if they are clearly meritless, why is there resistance to having an investigation,” he asked.

SHAL said it serviced 286 homeless clients in October, with an average 73 people a night sleeping in the shelter.