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.