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Chronicling homelessness: the summer heat takes a brutal toll – Guardian

With temperatures in some major metropolitan areas pushing upward of 100F, the fundamental physical circumstances of homelessness take on a new urgency

Homeless people take shelter from the sun in Phoenix. Photograph: Stephen Denton for the Guardian

As temperatures tick up across the country – around 100F in Los Angeles, almost 120F in Phoenix – and I find I sometimes have to sit directly in front of a fan in order to get any work done, it’s hard not to think guiltily of those with no such option. We reported recently about a homeless Arizona man who had no shoes and was found crawling across burning asphalt, and a woman who told us it was so hot on the streets, even at night, that she woke every hour to douse her hair with water.

Of all the hardships of homelessness, it is the fundamental physical circumstances – exposure to the elements, the struggle to keep clean, the discomfort of bedding down on concrete – that are often the most piercing. On Skid Row in Los Angeles, there are only nine toilets available to the 1,800 people sleeping on the streets at night. According to the authors of a recent report, this contravenes a UN standard for long term refugee camps, which specifies one toilet for 20 people at the most.

All of this means that the things you least expect can have a transformative effect. At 9.30pm on a chilly night a few months ago, a Guardian colleague and I met up with Rev Lyle Beckman, who leads a so-called night ministry – he patrols the streets of the Tenderloin district during the hours of darkness. As we were leaving his office, he suggested we fill our pockets with some socks he had in boxes. Outside we passed people sleeping in doorways and on sidewalks. When Beckman asked what they needed, a few named items we couldn’t give – a cigarette, a dollar. But when Beckman proffered a pair of socks, the surprisingly enthusiastic response made it clear how much more important they were.

As many advocates would probably say, a pair of socks is no substitute for the tens of billions of dollars that the federal government is underinvesting in affordable housing. But for a person who is on their feet all day or who can’t get dry after a rain storm, they are something.

FKOC announces the retirement of Rev. Stephen Braddock – KONK Life

The Florida Keys Outreach Coalition, Inc. announces the retirement of Rev. Stephen Braddock as FKOC’s President & Chief Executive Officer after seventeen years of service.   Rev. Braddock’s long career with FKOC began in 2000 as a planned “short six months” to help the homelessness agency transition to new management.  However, Rev. Braddock remained as a leader not just for FKOC’s mission and growth, but also among homelessness advocates in Monroe County.  

Under Rev. Braddock’s leadership FKOC has grown from one facility in Key West to now offering more than 160 beds of shelter and permanent housing for men, women, families, the elderly, disabled, and victims of domestic violence who find themselves without a place to call home.  Rev. Braddock was instrumental in the establishment of the Loaves & Fish Food Pantry at FKOC through a partnership with Episcopal Charities of Southeast Florida, creating the first food pantry within Key West city limits.   Most recently FKOC opened an outreach office in the Upper Keys to fully serve all of Monroe County.  FKOC began offering homelessness prevention services in 2015 to better assist those facing temporary financial hardship that would potentially lead to homelessness.  

Rev Braddock was a founding and longtime member of Monroe County’s Homeless Services Continuum of Care and nationally respected as an advocate for the most vulnerable members of our society.   Rev Braddock is a past recipient of the Edward “Capt’n” Kidd Humanitarian Award in recognition of his dedication to serving the homeless and impoverished of Key West. Additionally, Rev. Braddock established, with the support of Monroe County Social Services, Monroe County’s first Homeless Memorial Day service, a national day of remembrance for those who die on the streets across the county.  

FKOC Board Chairman Samuel Kaufman stated, “Seventeen years ago, FKOC started with little over a dozen beds.  Fr. Braddock has built FKOC to what it is today allowing the agency to provide housing to over 160 homeless individuals every day in Key West.  I am very proud to have worked with Fr. Braddock in all of the successes FKOC has achieved since the year 2000.  He will be greatly missed by all of us in the FKOC family.”

“As I leave this privileged position-privileged because I have come to know and to understand and experience the incredible impact that FKOC has made on so many lives-I do so with a heart full of gratitude. The accomplishments of these nearly two decades have not been mine alone; rather, they have been the work and dedication of many dedicated staff, volunteers, and supporters. The future of FKOC is very bright. Many possibilities and opportunities for growth await under new leadership at both the board and administrative levels. And, I am confident the mission of FKOC will continue to expand in scope and presence for decades to come,” said Rev. Braddock.

The Board of FKOC has named Stephanie Kaple Interim Executive Director of FKOC.  Stephanie Kaple began as intern with FKOC in the summer of 2003 and has over the years served in various roles with the agency most recently as Chief Operating Officer. “Rev Braddock has been a great mentor to myself and all of the staff at FKOC.  We look forward to continuing the mission of FKOC and always growing to better serve the community,” Stephanie Kaple stated.  Kaple continued, “I believe we have an exceptional team at FKOC, doing challenging but important work for our community.  I know FKOC will continue to be a key part of addressing homelessness in Monroe County.”

FKOC will hold its annual Happy Hour Fundraiser at the Bottlecap on July 21st from 5 to 8pm (2221 Simonton Street) and invites everyone to stop by and support FKOC’s Loaves & Fish Food Pantry and their new community garden project.  FKOC Board Chairman and City of Key West Commissioner Sam Kaufman will also be celebrating his birthday that evening.

Key West homeless shelter ‘fee’ proposed – Keynoter

Don’t abandon Housing First – Citizen

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

Homelessness seems like one of those persistent problems that never goes away — but a housing strategy that has gained favor nationally in the past decade has proven effective in dramatically reducing homelessness.

Called Housing First, the strategy holds that the best solution for homelessness is moving people into permanent housing as rapidly as possible. The notion is that providing housing without preconditions, such as sobriety tests, provides the stability needed for those are homeless to access services such as mental health treatment and job training.

Now 23 House Republicans — including Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Gainesville — are calling for the federal government to turn away from the Housing First approach. In a recent letter to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, they suggested that the policy doesn’t give homeless people with substance abuse problems enough incentive to sober up.

The letter also argued that HUD’s emphasis on Housing First is causing programs for homeless families and children to lose funding. Certainly that is a reasonable concern, but moving away from Housing First risks reversing the progress that has come from it.

The federal government first embraced Housing First under President George W. Bush’s administration, not because of some ideological belief but because it worked. Cities across the country have found the approach has reduced chronic homelessness and the costs associated with it.

The CEO of Changing Homelessness in Jacksonville told, which first reported on Yoho signing the letter, that veteran homelessness has dropped over 80 percent in that area since a Housing First policy was adopted. Florida Hospital in Orlando saw a nearly 60 percent reduction in emergency room visits by formerly homeless individuals now involved in a Housing First program, officials there announced recently. 

Homeless advocates say the biggest need in solving homelessness is, well, a lack of housing. They say hundreds of families are living in their cars or in tents or worse. Getting people into housing and relieving their worries about safety and shelter is a huge step toward resolving the other issues associated with homelessness — again, health, jobs and nutrition.

The federal government has made Housing First its foremost program for addressing chronic homelessness. In communities where the program has been instituted on a broad scale, they are seeing success. Clearly there is a need in our community to more aggressively adopt a Housing First model to further reduce the numbers of homeless.

Yoho and the other House Republicans should reconsider their objections to Housing First, and HUD should think twice before abandoning an approach that has reduced homelessness and the costs associated with it. There are too many homeless in our community and state to not work try to make Housing First work. It makes sense. Give a homeless person a home and it will free them up from a major daily worry — where am I going to sleep tonight.

Data shows majority of shelter residents are local – Citizen

July 9, 2017

Early returns from a recently implemented database at the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter indicate a large percentage of clients are from Key West or nearby, not from far reaching locales as many think.

Six months of information gleaned from the shelter’s Apricot Social Solutions Database show more than half of shelter clients are local and a large percentage of those are recently homeless with obvious causes such as job loss and addiction, according to Southernmost Homeless Assistance League (which manages KOTS) Executive Director John Miller.

“We’re discovering that a huge majority of our new clients … are from Key West or very close by,” Miller said. “The people who are from Key West seem to be a little more newly homeless and with more readily identifiable problems.”

The challenge of finding a steady job and affordable housing in Key West, along with its built-in distractions, make the island a tough place to survive, frequently resulting in first time homelessness, according to Miller.

“(KOTS clients are) already here, they’re just not homeless yet,” he said.

The Apricot Social Solutions Database gathers a wide range of data to supplement the general information requested on the shelter’s intake forms, including duration of homelessness, income sources, barriers to treatment and which services are requested, according to Southernmost Homeless Assistance League (which manages KOTS) Executive Director John Miller.

The data helps case managers and the shelter identify which services the clients need, as well as which short and long-term clients require extra attention. As time goes by and more data is collected, it will be used to shape the programs offered at the shelter, Miller said.

“We can start to use that to help design our service modules and what kinds of services we need to be offering,” he said. “Down the road, not too far off, we’ll be able to look at things over time and that’s very important.”

KOTS Outreach currently assists clients with obtaining identification, case management information referrals and employment assistance including purchasing work clothes or other necessities for the newly employed, Miller said.

Miller, who has a background in information technology, programmed the database and uses recommendations from shelter staff to add categories and questions.

“I can add anything we need. It’s really, really user friendly,” he said.

Stay united in the fight against homelessness – Citizen

(This editorial that appeared in the Key West Citizen on July 7, 2017 originally appeared in the Orlando Sentinel.)

Central Florida has made remarkable progress over the past few years in the battle against homelessness. But it’ll take sustained leadership, cooperation and investment across the region to maintain the momentum and avoid letting those hard-fought gains erode.

Just four years ago, Metro Orlando ranked No. 1 among the nation’s midsized cities in its number of chronically homeless people, defined as individuals who have been without permanent shelter for at least a year. Since then — with government, business and the faith communities engaging, coordinating their approach and kicking in resources — housing has been provided for more than 700 of the chronically homeless. This past week leaders in the battle celebrated their success over the past couple of years in housing 168 of the most vulnerable individuals, who suffer from serious physical or mental illnesses; the effort easily surpassed its goal of 100.

The number of homeless in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties identified in the annual “Point in Time Count” has fallen by more than half in the past four years, another metric by which progress in the battle is measured. The 2017 total actually moved in the wrong direction, rising 29 percent. But the count, conducted on a single day in January, can be easily skewed. In 2016, it rained heavily on the day of the survey, which almost certainly reduced the number of people on the street. This year, the weather was good, and better-connected outreach workers and volunteers had an easier time tallying the area’s homeless.

A more troubling sign came recently when the Osceola County Commission passed a local ordinance criminalizing homelessness along U.S. Highway 192, the county’s main tourism corridor. The measure threatens anyone who sets up a “temporary habitation,” such as a tent or cardboard shanty, with a fine of up to $500 and a jail sentence of up to 60 days. While supporters of the new ordinance argued it was just a tool to prod the homeless to find a program providing shelter and services or relocate, there is no emergency shelter for homeless men in Osceola County, and other housing options in the county are few and far between.

Indeed, the battle against homelessness is more challenging throughout Central Florida because of a shortage of affordable housing. Metro Orlando ranked third in the nation in 2016 for its lack of housing for extremely low-income residents, according to a National Low Income Housing Coalition study. There’s much more work to be done on expanding the supply of affordable housing in the region.

While we understand the frustration of business owners on Osceola’s tourism corridor who say tourists are turned off by homeless people, slapping them with fines they can’t pay or throwing them in jail for a couple of months is not a viable solution. In fact, incarceration is the most expensive and least effective way for a community to deal with its homeless. When they are released, they’ll have a criminal record that presents an additional obstacle for them to land a job and pay for permanent housing.

Incarceration is also the least compassionate solution. In the latest Point in Time Count, 22 percent of the homeless were children, 12 percent were families and 11 percent were veterans.

Supporters of Osceola’s ordinance said arrest would be a last resort. Sheriff Russ Gibson told the Sentinel that he would urge his deputies to use “the greatest amount of discretion possible” in enforcing the ordinance. Two weeks after it passed, no homeless person had been arrested under the new measure. 

Yet Osceola’s measure represents a crack in the consensus adopted by leaders across the region to fight homelessness with a strategy of providing housing first before addressing other needs. This strategy was buttressed by a 2014 study that found that chronically homeless individuals on average ran up costs for their communities of $31,000 a year, including hospitalization and incarceration, while they could be provided with housing for about $10,000 a year.

The other two counties covered in the Point in Time Count, Orange and Seminole, have continued to focus their efforts on providing housing for the chronically homeless. Osceola leaders would be smarter to stick with that strategy. Their taxpayers would be better off, too.

Copyright © 2017, Orlando Sentinel

Homeless shelter proposal hits snag – Citizen

A longterm operating proposal for the city’s overnight homeless shelter was dead on arrival Tuesday, pulled from the agenda by Key West City Manager Jim Scholl before the city commission could weigh in.

The Southernmost Homeless Assistance League’s (SHAL’s) proposal to construct a new Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter and continue operating the facility for 10 years on a $1-per-year lease was pulled because a lending agreement in the lease would’ve put the city in an “inappropriate” position, Scholl said.

Part of the agreement stipulated the city would provide the collateral needed for SHAL to obtain a $1.1 million construction loan, a move that would’ve required a public referendum and other approvals to be deemed legal, Scholl said.

“We have restrictions as a municipal government that are different than a lot of…other bilateral contractual agreements,” he said.

Scholl recommended the city split the construction and operation aspects of the project and solicit public bids for the construction of a new facility, which was generally supported by the board although no official vote was taken.

“We need to separate the project into individual parts and find a way to move forward,” Scholl said.

Putting the project out to public bid would provide needed government transparency, Commissioner Billy Wardlow said.

“I, for one, think it should go out for bids … just like any other city project,” he said. “What we’re doing right now, I don’t believe there’s transparency.”

Plans remain in place to construct the new facility on city property at the former Easter Seals site, as the city remains under obligation to move the current KOTS from its current location.

A 2013 settlement agreement from a lawsuit brought by nearby condo owners at Sunset Marina stipulated the city make “a good faith effort” to move the facility and Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsey has repeatedly expressed his desire for the shelter to be moved away from the neighboring county jail and sheriff’s office.

Commissioners Sam Kaufman and Margaret Romero brought up several issues with the proposal despite its tabling, including questions over capacity, on-site services provided and funding.

The proposal requested $745,000 in funding from the city for fiscal year 2017-18, up more than $300,000 from its 2016 budget.

Kaufman recommended combining the construction with an upcoming affordable housing project slated for a neighboring parcel in an effort to reduce costs.

“The costs of the construction may actually be less if all (the construction) is done as one project,” he said.

The city managing operations of the facility was also brought up by Kaufman and subsequently panned by Mayor Craig Cates and Commissioner Jimmy Weekley.

It would be an “absolute nightmare” for the city to manage KOTS due to the expertise needed and added payroll costs associated with staffing the facility, Cates said.

City staff will begin drafting requests for public proposals to construct the facility, Scholl said.

The board also approved the first reading of an ordinance that invokes the “zoning in progress doctrine” to place a 270 day moratorium on medical marijuana activities within city limits.

The moratorium affects “dispensing facilities and medical cannabis activities” and will allow the Key West Planning Board time to hold public hearings and draft new land use regulations on the growing, cultivation, dispensing and distribution of medical cannabis, according to interim Planning Director Patrick Wright.

The city will not accept applications for business tax receipts, licenses or building permits for dispensing facilities during the moratorium, according to city documents.

The moratorium will not restrict authorized doctors from prescribing medical cannabis, Assistant City Attorney George Wallace said.

In November, state voters approved a state constitutional amendment allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana for medical purposes. The amendment went into effect Jan. 3 and the state Legislature has six months to promulgate rules and nine months to implement them.

Other Keys municipalities have issued similar moratoriums, including Monroe County and the city of Marathon.

The ordinance was unanimously approved but will require a second reading at the next board meeting before taking effect.

City to vote on homeless shelter – Citizen

BY SCOTT UNGER Citizen Staff

The Key West City Commission will vote Tuesday on a proposal from the Southernmost homeless Assistance League (SHAL) to construct a new overnight homeless shelter and continue managing its operation.

The proposal calls for a 10-year operating agreement with a $1-per-year lease, along with funding to construct a new Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter (KOTS) at the site of the former Easter Seals building.

Moving the current KOTS facility, (which has been housing the city’s homeless since 2004) from its current College Road location, has been in the works for some time.

A 2013 settlement agreement from a lawsuit brought by nearby condo owners at Sunset Marina stipulated the city make “a good faith effort” to move the facility and Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsey has repeatedly expressed his desire for the shelter to be moved away from the neighboring county jail and sheriff’s office.

The proposal estimates construction costs at slightly over $1,000,000, which includes $51,000 to purchase six elevated quonset huts that will serve as dorms and $77,000 for the bathroom facility that will feature four individual female bathrooms with sinks, toilets and showers and a men’s bathroom with six showers and seven toilets.

The plans also call for $98,547 to renovate the existing structure on the property into offices, laundry facilities and a kitchen.

The total estimated development price tag is $1,193,308, with SHAL required to provide a lender willing to support a 10-year loan, according to the lease agreement.

SHAL is requesting $745,000 in funding from the city for fiscal year 2017-18, up more than $300,000 from its 2016 budget. The non-profit’s only other listed revenue is $75,000 in grant funding.

The proposed budget includes a $158,000 loan payment and $417,732 in employee wages (up from $339,503 in 2016),

Under the operating agreement, SHAL will independently “render homeless services including the management and operation of KOTS” and submit a monthly financial and operating report to the city. Approval by city officials will be required for “significant operational changes” and a clause stipulates the city can terminate the contract if a third party agreement can’t be reached with Monroe County.

The contract also states either SHAL or the city can terminate the agreement with 90 days notice, at which point the property will revert to the city.

The City Commission meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.

In Key West, homeless shelter is bare-bones without a hint of the island’s famed excess – Keynoter

Wayne Walls, an Army vet who served in Afghanistan, sleeps at KOTS while he works a landscaping job during the day.
Gwen Filosa – Keynoter


Wayne Walls figures the dark green mattress he sleeps on at Key West’s overnight homeless shelter came from the jail. It resembles an inmate’s bunk, thin and lumpy, but does the job of separating a man from the floor.

Doesn’t matter. He says he is grateful for the place to lay his head after a day of landscape work out at the Navy’s Boca Chica air field.

“It’s better than sleeping on concrete,” Walls said the other evening, smoking a cigarette at the open-air space that is the shelter’s living room. A dozen men and some women milled about while others quietly sat in front of a modest television watching a movie.

It was cold for Key West, and Walls wore an orange windbreaker. A shelter worker checked through backpacks of the incoming homeless, looking for banned items such as drugs and booze and weapons.

A shelter worker searches bags, looking for booze, drugs or weapons, all prohibited. Gwen Filosa – Keynoter

“They do the best they can with what little funding,” Walls said. “Everything I’m wearing came from here. They got me a job the first day I got here. If you want to work, they get you work.”

Key West, famed for its excess in luxury vacations and destination weddings, spares every cent it can on its homeless shelter, dubbed the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter and located on a ratty corner of the Sheriff’s Office property on Stock Island, 5537 College Road.

It survives on under $435,000 a year, managed by the nonprofit Southernmost Homeless Assistance League, and although only a couple of miles from Duval Street, it’s worlds away from the art galleries and gingerbread-trimmed homes.

In an area that supports an $8.4 million animal shelter, a $19 million City Hall and a $30 million Truman Waterfront Park, the homeless shelter has no political will backing it for new services or additions.

Walls, 45, who arrived in Key West six months ago and has been at the shelter for a week, got the bunk from the city and the job from shelter director Mike Tolbert, who treats the homeless men — “clients” as they’re called in the nonprofit world — like you’d treat your buddies from work or the poker game.

“I’ve been here forever so I have a lot of connections,” Tolbert said. “I can get them something.”

On a Saturday in March, Tolbert who came in on his day off, rounded up some volunteers and spent the morning power-washing the inside of the white-painted bunkhouses to remove the grit and grime that comes with Key West’s climate.

“To get them into a self-sustaining lifestyle, that’s our job,” said John Miller, SHAL’s executive director. “If they want warehousing, they can look for someone else.”

No support

Many of the men who sleep at KOTS have had some hard luck that they said left them out in the street.

Divorce, job losses, health care or simply a failure at keeping up with the material world and being locked in a world of day labor, living week to week and paycheck to paycheck.

In February, on average 98 people slept at the shelter off College Road and a total of 225 different individuals staying there. Case workers help men and women obtain legal identification, including birth certificates.

The shelter is seeking donations of work boots. Someone dropped off a new washer last month. A local named T.J. Goss dropped off $300 worth of hamburgers from a fast-foot joint. Along with the generosity of Key West proper, nonprofits across the Lower Keys offer other services.

“If you can’t find help in Key West then there’s something wrong,” said Jamie Crenshaw, 36, who’s been at KOTS for a couple weeks, having moved down from Brevard County after losing his job.

“I’d rather be down here,” he said. “It’s warm.”

Crenshaw, who prefers to sleep on his vinyl mattress outside the bunkhouse, where men sleep inches away from one another, said not every homeless man wants to work himself out from under the bottom rung.

“The other day Mike said, ‘I need three guys to unload a truck.’ Three of us raised our hands,” Crenshaw said.

Those three wound up with paying jobs, he added.

To settle a lawsuit by nearby condo owners, the city decided in 2013 to move the shelter off the county property. But nothing more than sketches and estimates have been brought up by staff and the commission has stalled on making a decision.

Little will

“Sad, isn’t it?” Mayor Craig Cates said. “There’s some [support] on the commission but just not enough to make it happen. The only thing that’s holding it up is the will to move forward with some kind of project. Some on the commission don’t want the city to pay for it. When another group offers to pay for it, some on the commission don’t want them to handle the project. We just can’t come together.”

The entrance at Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter
Gwen Filosa – Keynoter

Cates said he no longer is calling for a 24-hour shelter but says it’s still a better way to manage Key West’s homeless issue, rather than force the men and women to leave the overnight shelter by 7:30 a.m. with no public safety net available until 6 p.m. that night.

“There’s a few that cause them to get a bad rap,” Cates said of the city’s homeless.

When early estimates more than a year ago came in at $1 million to move the shelter to another spot on College Road, on city property known as the former Easter Seals building, government critics seized on it.

Then-City Commissioner Tony Yaniz said he didn’t want anything more than U.S. troops were getting overseas in war-torn countries and had visions of luxuries like air conditioning and ice cream — neither available at KOTS — being added to a shelter that can hold 140 sleeping souls on any given night.

Walls isn’t complaining about the simplistic nature of KOTS. The other day he told a visitor about his life without exuding a drop of self pity: A 19-year Army vet turned day laborer who has terminal cancer, Walls said he moved to Key West from Hollywood, Fla. He said his girlfriend just died of an overdose after a lengthy heroin addiction.

“She would have been 35 on the 23rd,” Walls said. Their dream was to get a boat and live out the rest of his life — doctors gave him 36 months to live, he said.

Walls remains just a man who wants a job and a spot to call his own, however thin the mattress.

“I’m still going to do it without her,” Walls said. “That’s where my heart sent me.”

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen

Key West homeless shelter says it served more than 1,400 people in 2016 – Keynoter