To help pay the $462,000 a year it costs to run its emergency homeless shelter, perhaps the city of Key West could charge those who are employed a nightly fee, a city commissioner proposed this week during budget hearings.
City Commissioner Jimmy Weekley only asked the question and Commissioner Sam Kaufman wondered whether the shelter could be divided into an emergency free shelter — required under well-settled case law in order for the city to enforce its anti-camping and trespassing laws — and another program for the working homeless.
About 25 percent of the 100 or so men and women who sleep at the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter every night work, said John Miller, executive director of the Southernmost Homeless Assistance League, which manages the shelter for the city.
“We have one whole dorm for the employed,” Miller told the commission Monday, the opening day of budget hearings. “We fill that up every night.”
Miller said charging a fee to certain clients has come up before at SHAL.
“It’s certainly a possibility,” Miller said, adding that a no-cost shelter must be provided in order for Key West to keep in line with case law. Police cannot arrest people for loitering or camping if they have no place to go, according to a well-known settlement agreement between the homeless and the city of Miami named after Michael Pottinger.
In times of reduced nonprofit funding, it’s not unheard of for agencies such as the Salvation Army and privately run homeless missions in cities to charge for a stay at a homeless shelter, or limit the number of consecutive nights one may crash. Transitional housing programs in Key West charge clients rent.
KOTS does neither.
Kaufman, an attorney and a longtime board member of the nonprofit that originally ran KOTS, Florida Keys Outreach Coalition, noted the shelter must stay open for those who have nothing in order for the city to enforce its laws keeping people from living on the streets, beaches or in parks.
Mayor Craig Cates said, “The whole idea is to get people to go the shelter. We’re just trying to determine if there’s a deterrent…rather than [homeless people] using that forever.”