Homeless shelter gets new push
BY PRU SOWERS
With each proposed option continually getting shot down, Key West city officials are getting creative in their quest to build a new overnight homeless shelter.
Mayor Craig Cates is proposing to do a deal with the Land Authority, which collects a half-cent bed tax placed on Key West hotel, B&Bs and transient rental guests for every dollar they spend. The deal would involve selling property at 5224 College Road, currently jointly owned by the city and Monroe County, to the Land Authority. The Authority would then either offer the city a long-term lease or give the property back to the city outright, Cates said, and the city would use part of the money from the sale to build a new homeless shelter.
The parcel currently houses the former Easter Seals building which is occupied by the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District offices. The county animal control offices and animal shelter are also located on the property.
“The chances are good. That money belongs to the city of Key West,” Cates said, adding that the deal would eliminate the need to issue a property tax levy to pay for a new shelter.
The property is currently assessed for less than $1 million. But the cost of a new shelter, which would be an open air concrete slab with roll-down plastic walls, would be about $700,000, Cates said. He didn’t elaborate on what the remaining money would be used for. Under current law, Land Authority funds can only be used to purchase land for affordable housing or land conservation purposes. Although the bed tax funds are used exclusively within Key West city limits, any spending of those monies must be approved by the Monroe County Commission.
The city is under the gun to move the existing Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter (KOTS) out of the current facility on the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department property on College Road after losing a lawsuit filed by the neighboring Sunset Marina condominium owners. The lawsuit charged – and the courts agreed – that the city ignored its own building permit regulations when it turned an existing sheriff’s department building into an overnight shelter for homeless men and women.
Since the court decision, the city has been looking for a new location to house the approximately 150 people who turn up at the shelter each evening. And Rick Ramsey, Monroe County Sheriff, also compounded the problem by telling city and county commissioners last month that he no longer wanted to provide security and maintenance services for KOTS. The city pays approximately $440,000 a year to operate KOTS, which is managed by the nonprofit Southernmost Homeless Assistance League.
City commissioners explored moving the facility into the existing state Juvenile Detention Facility, also on College Road, but were rebuffed by state and federal authorities earlier this month.
Cates said this week that city and county attorneys are looking into the feasibility of using Land Authority funds to build a new KOTS that would include shower and toilet facilities in separate trailers on the property. The Key West Land Authority collects about $1.5 million each year and there is approximately $7 million currently in the fund.
“The sheriff wants us to move. That’s why this is coming up now,” Cates said, referring to his funding proposal. “We have to move.”