BY PRU SOWERS
KONK LIFE STAFF WRITER
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.