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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.

Key West mayor: Turn Bayshore Manor into homeless shelter – Keynoter


OCTOBER 21, 2017 7:59 AM

Bayshore Manor, Monroe County’s assisted-living home for 16 residents, needs to be turned into Key West’s overnight homeless shelter, the city’s mayor said this week.

The elderly residents could move into the Key West Housing Authority’s senior living complex, which will house at least 100, when it opens next year, Mayor Craig Cates said.

A 2011 lawsuit by condo owners is forcing the city to move its Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter from the present-day spot next door to the Sheriff’s Office on College Road. For years, Key West city commissioners had always chosen a former Easter Seals site, also on College Road, as the place for its next homeless shelter. .

But Cates says the Easter Seals location is now needed for new affordable workforce housing. This week, city commissioners approved a zoning change specifically for its properties on College Road, which total 2.65 acres.

“We could have 106 units there,” Cates said.

Bayshore Manor, which costs the county about $800,000 a year to run, is an old facility, Cates said. Its residents could move into a new state-of-the-art complex on Duck Avenue in Key West and Bayshore Manor employes could find other county jobs, he said.

“I would support it,” said County Mayor George Neugent. “Now whether there’s other votes to support it…”

County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy said no way.

“How does over my dead body hit you?” Murphy replied when asked if she would consider closing Bayshore Manor. “There is no way I’m uprooting a bunch of elderly people. I figure someday I’ll be in Bayshore Manor.”

As for the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter in Key West, Murphy said it remains a city, not county, issue.

“KOTS is Key West’s problem, it’s not ours,” she said.

County struggles with Bayshore Manor, homeless shelter issue – Citizen

October 20, 2017

The idea of converting Bayshore Manor into an overnight homeless shelter received a lukewarm reception at Wednesday’s Monroe County Commission meeting but County Mayor George Neugent will bring back the idea back next month.

Neugent, Key West Mayor Craig Cates and County Administrator Roman Gastesi met last week to discuss possible locations for KOTS (Keys Overnight Shelter).

The three discussed moving the 16 Bayshore Manor residents and 10 respite care beds to the new senior assisted living facility the city is building at Poinciana Plaza, which will be open within the next six to eight months. Bayshore would then serve as the homeless shelter.

However, county commissioners Sylvia Murphy, Heather Carruthers and Danny Kolhage did not embrace the idea on Wednesday.

The County Commission voted last month to give the city a year to move KOTS from its current location on county-owned property next to the sheriff’s headquarters and jail. Cates wants KOTS to stay there, despite the city’s promise to move it several years ago. Sheriff Rick Ramsay plans to build worker housing for his employees there.

The disagreement sparked the informal meeting between city and county leaders. Neugent reminded his fellow commissioners to play nice with the city because the property is within city limits and the city will ultimately have to approve Ramsay’s project and issue the building permits.

Commissioner Kolhage responded “that those two should have nothing to do with each other.”

Nuegent told The Citizen Thursday morning that he would rather see Kolhage and Carruthers take the lead on this issue, as they represent Key West. However, he said he would put the item back on the November meeting agenda if they don’t.

“This is something we have to deal with,” Neugent said. “If not, we are going to be back where we were several years ago with the homeless roaming the streets because there is no place for them to go.”

Homeless shelter move to senior housing facility being dissected – Konk Life



Key West Mayor Craig Cates admits he probably “jumped the gun” a bit when he publicly spoke recently about converting the Bayshore Manor senior assisted living facility into the local homeless shelter.

The talks between city officials and Monroe County, which owns and operates Bayshore Manor, up to that point had been preliminary and unofficial. But after mentioning the idea in a radio interview, a lot of people got very interested, and anxious, very quickly, including Bayshore staff members and relatives of the facility’s current residents. And when county commissioners discussed the idea at their Oct. 18 meeting, their initial response was not very enthusiastic despite agreeing to bring the matter up again at their November meeting.

“It doesn’t surprise me. They all have constituents to answer to,” Cates said about the tepid reaction from county commissioners. “But they all understand we need a [homeless] shelter. Key West has been carrying the water for the shelter for years and years.”

Currently, Monroe County supplies the land for the existing Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter (KOTS) while Key West pays about $450,000 each year to operate the shelter. But Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsey wants the shelter property, which is next to the sheriff’s headquarters, to be used for affordable workforce housing for his deputies and staff. And county commissioners voted in September to give Key West one year to move the shelter to a new location.

The city commission had agreed in 2015 to move KOTS across the street to one of three city-owned parcels on College Road on Stock Island. But with the already-low availability of affordable housing units becoming almost non-existent after Hurricane Irma ravaged the Florida Keys in September, Cates wants all three of the parcels to be used for a workforce housing development. And that would leave the issue of where to relocate KOTS up in the air.

While there has been talk in the past about the city taking over Bayshore Manor, there has been no place to move the 16 current residents, as well as 10 addition beds that are used for respite care. But with the imminent completion of Poinciana Gardens, a new 108-unit senior living facility the city is building on Duck Avenue, there will soon be a modern facility that can house the Bayshore Manor residents, Cates said. Under his plan, the county would lease the one-acre Bayshore Manor complex to the city, the city would pay the cost of converting the building into a homeless shelter, and both the city and county would share the cost of maintaining KOTS going forward. As for the cost of operating Poinciana Gardens, the city has hired a private contractor to set and collect rent from occupants that is intended to cover the cost of operating the facility.

“That’s my wish,” Cates said. “That’s my goal, to bring everybody together to accomplish that.”

Monroe County spends approximately $800,000 a year to operate Bayshore Manor. The new Poinciana Gardens, aimed at low and moderate-income seniors, is expected to open in six to nine months. Located at Duck Avenue and 17th Street, the three-story structure replaced a four-unit apartment building on the property and will provide 108 apartments for an estimated 140 people. The first two floors will have 60 apartments for more independent seniors, with the third floor offering 48 units with assisted living services, which include more care and supervision for residents. In addition, the new facility will have a “respite care” program, where 25 non-resident seniors can receive daycare during the day.

Leaders to propose new KOTS location – Citizen

By Timothy O’Hara Key West Citizen

October 18, 2017
Monroe County and city of Key West mayors have informally discussed the possibility of converting Bayshore Manor senior assisted living facility into a homeless shelter, but a formal agreement has yet to be reached.

The Monroe County Commission will most likely discuss the proposal when it meets on Wednesday at the Marathon Government Center, 2798 Overseas Highway. The meeting starts at 9 a.m. today.

Key West Mayor Craig Cates plans to bring the proposal before the Key West City Commission when it meets in November, Key West Mayor Craig Cates said.

Both commissions would have to vote on the proposal to use the county-owned Bayshore Manor property for KOTS (Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter).

Last week, Cates, County Mayor George Neugent and County Administrator Roman Gastesi informally discussed a proposal that would call for the the 1-acre Bayhore Manor facility and property to be converted into KOTS.

The 16 Bayshore Manor residents and the 10 beds for respite care would be moved to a 108-room senior living facility at Poinciana Plaza in Key West currently under construction, according to Cates. The new facility should be completed within the next six to eight months, Cates said.

Cates said the new facility is newer and nicer and the county would not have to pay to maintain the facility. The new facility will be run by a private, third-party contractor.

“This is a brand new, state-of-the-art facility that people would want to move into,” Cates said.

Cates announced the proposal on U.S. 1 radio on Monday morning and said there was an agreement. That sparked a flood of calls from the family of Bayshore Manor residents and facility staff to county personnel who oversee the facility. Staff and family were concerned that there was an agreement in place and they were not notified.

Residents’ family members were concerned that the residents would have to move and staff was concerned that they would no longer have jobs.

“Bayshore Manor provides 16 affordable housing units for our most frail, elderly citizens in Monroe County,” said Sheryl Graham, senior social services director for the county. “To take these 16 affordable housing units dedicated to our vulnerable elderly offline would be senseless. … Bayshore Manor holds a rich and fascinating history that our residents, families, and staff love.”

County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy said she was opposed to the idea.

“That is their home,” Murphy said. “These seniors are happy there. To turn that facility into a homeless shelter would be a travesty.”

Commissioner Heather Carruthers said she is not opposed to discussing the idea, but wants to know what the costs would be to relocate the seniors to a new facility and the level care they would receive at the facility at Poinciana Plaza.

“They better be going to a better place not a lesser place and a place they can afford,” Carruthers said.

The county spends roughly $800,000 a year staffing and maintaining Bayshore Manor, according to Graham.

Neugent said the discussion with Cates was informal and any decision would have to be made by the full County Commission. Neugent, Cates and Gastesi were trying to find a solution about where to place KOTS.

KOTS is currently located next to the Sheriff’s Office headquarters and jail on Stock Island. The County Commission voted unanimously last month to give the city a year to move KOTS, because Sheriff Rick Ramsay wants to place employee housing on that property, despite Cates wanting to maintain it as KOTS.

The city agreed to move KOTS several years ago, as it was established as a temporary facility more than 10 years ago with no contract. The city has also been sued over the location and agreed to move the shelter, drawing up plans that were presented but rejected by the City Commission in 2015.

County: Homeless shelter must move in 2018 – Keynoter

SEPTEMBER 29, 2017 4:16 PM

Homeless pavilion a worthy undertaking – Citizen

(This editorial that appeared in the Key West Citizen on August 17, 2017 originally appeared in the Ocala Star-Banner)

The city of Ocala’s proposal to build a pavilion adjacent to Interfaith Emergency Services to serve as a place for homeless people to gather and receive food and other services is a worthy undertaking. It will not, however, solve the downtown’s “homeless problem” or the broader problem of an uncoordinated community response to what is an ageless human condition.

The city is proposing to build a 50-by-20-foot shelter next to Interfaith’s food warehouse, just a few blocks west of downtown. The facility would have restrooms, wash sinks and picnic tables, as well as security, and provide homeless residents with a place for a respite. The cost of the project is estimated at about a quarter-million dollars.

The city’s stated goal is to “create a focal point where wrap-around services can be developed” and provide “organized access to food, clothing, voluntary support and mental health counseling.” Those are admirable objectives, although as the city’s own assessment of homeless services in our community shows, there are 52 different agencies and organizations in Ocala alone, from churches to charities to civic groups, providing services of some kind to the homeless. No doubt each of these providers does noble work, and the notion that they will move their efforts to the new pavilion is, well, not practical.

Of course, opponents of the plan, and they so far are few, say the real reason the city is willing to invest in the project is to get homeless people out of the downtown, away from the shops and restaurant and bars that draw patrons to the center city. And the critics would be right. Yet, we ask them, what is wrong with providing a gathering place with facilities and food, just a few blocks from where most such activities are occurring now? What is wrong with removing the homeless from our central business district as much as possible? The answer is, there is nothing wrong with it.

In fact, it would seem to us that the new pavilion does provide better opportunities for the homeless to not only get food but health care, mental health counseling, medication, clothing and other services as well.

The downtown has always had issues with the homeless, largely caused by a handful of vagrants. But with organizations now holding regular mass feedings at the county parking owned lot north of Silver Springs Boulevard and the Salvation Army being at near-capacity much of the time as the economy continues to recover, the impact is greater than ever. Creating a gathering place for the homeless away from businesses is not unreasonable.

The city’s long-term goal is to bring about a coordinated plan for dealing with the homeless in Ocala and Marion County. It has invested significantly in addressing homelessness, even creating a homeless liaison in former police major Dennis Yonce, to further the cause. Nonetheless, given the number of groups engaged in this charitable work makes such plan a challenge that will require years of cajoling and coordination, if it ever can be accomplished.

For now, though, the proposed pavilion is a sensible idea that benefits the homeless and the downtown business district as well. It is an idea that has been floated off and on for more than decade. It is time to make it a reality.