Saturday, January 25, 2020

Housing For Almost All

I walk the mangrove trails when I can on my days off to shake off the accumulated stress of work and people and traffic and getting things done. I never take the peace and quiet of the woods for granted even if this may not look like much to someone used to mountains and valleys and views and rivers and things. For to take a mile or even a half mile walk along trail that was to have been a development, happily abandoned decades ago, allows me to reset my stress levels. Camera and dog and I am set.
When my wife and  were looking for somewhere to live in the Lower keys about five years ago we had no idea what we might find but my wife was determined to get a shot at a decent rental as soon as it came up. She haunted Craigslist so she could pounce as soon as anew ad appeared. We were in fact first on scene the very night the advertisement appeared and our landlord was encouraged by our references and our reliable jobs. We got the house and it has been amazing. Our landlord is wonderful, our rent is reasonable beyond anything one could expect in the Keys. We are lucky.  
I mention this to put in perspective some of the discussions reported this week in the papers about proposals, vague enough one must acknowledge to deal with the shortage of decent affordable housing. The city commission in Key West got a view of a new homeless shelter to be built on the location of the current decrepit facilities on Stock Island. The Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter at the Sheriff's headquarters has been a refuge not only for homeless people but also for working poor residents of the city. Consider a room could cost $1200 a month say. Add a first month, last month and a security deposit and you are looking with utility hookups as well, at $4,000 to move into a place at the lower end of the rental scale in the city. Failing that you get a shower a locker and a mattress at KOTS in the company of anyone else in the same boat.
KOTS is a hastily created facility with air conditioned huts and no great sense of permanence. It was built to by pass the Pottinger decision in Miami where a Federal judge ruled that to arrest a "vagrant" the local jurisdiction had to offer a safe place for the homeless to sleep. Without KOTS people could legally sleep anywhere in public in Key West. Pottinger has been overturned but the benefit of housing the residentially challenged has been made obvious in a  city where residents complain all the time about public "sleepers." So now the city has the opportunity to create a better permanent facility and the commissioners looked at some plans.
The new shelter would be raised on stilts, good to avoid flooding, but the ground floor area would also be where the residents would stage as they waited for the shelter to open. Architects also offered a landscaped path to get the homeless from College Road  to the shelter itself. From the Citizen page:
The idea is to avoid clusters of homeless residents gathering as they currently do on College Road. They are unfortunately considered unsightly and provoke complaints...So in the future they will walk from College Road largely unseen to the underside of the new shelter and wait patiently to receive their bed assignments. That's the theory at any rate.
Homelessness like everything else in the Southernmost City waxes and wanes with the seasons. The population increases in winter when sleeping with the mosquitoes is I imagine an improvement over sleeping on a steam grate in a  snowdrift. The shelter was a brilliant innovation designed to cope with a vast population of people sleeping in parks and on city streets and when  it opened it was a twenty four hour facility until the housed population cried foul at the thought of bums lounging around in a  city and so the hours were reduced and the homeless found themselves wandering the city again by day. Personally I thought out of sight even with a  publicly funded TV was better for all concerned but I am by nature out of step with the majority.
The other part of the KOTS population is the working poor as mentioned above and the new shelter will be one hopes a step up for people trying to do the right thing and keep their heads above water. Then there are the many among the destitute who have mental health problems including of course disproportionate numbers of vets who get lip service for their sacrifices and are left to wander the streets mumbling to themselves. Thus we live with an intractable problem without any of the special circumstances in the Lower Keys. KOTS is critically important to everyone's quality of life who shares a small island with the destitute the mad and the professional bums of whom there are not a few.
The issue of housing has been around forever and still our leaders chunter on as though there were a  way to fix the shortages. The only way to house people is to build housing and sell or rent it at an affordable price. The Meridian complex on Stock Island is a sterling example of affordable units with all proper facilities at reasonable prices, by local standards. However it has not yet been replicated.
There is a housing complex with hundreds of units available now on Big Coppitt Key, half a dozen miles from North Roosevelt Boulevard and that is going to help some people. The plans are apparently also in place for a sweeping construction project replacing several trailer parks in the process. The fact is this project has been on the back burner for years amid calls for sub standard trailers to be removed. I wrote an essay in 2015 on the subject of Housing On Stock Island.
The thing is the trailers really are affordable, if decrepit and when there is a public conversation about "affordable housing" no one actually stands up in the room and says we will rent (or sell) for a definite price. The newspaper reported four categories of affordable housing for the proposed 280 unit Wreckers Cay on Stock island. Which sounded a bit too precise for the real world but maybe ultimately they will produce comparable numbers to ultra low income, low income, median income and moderate income which last  category amounts to $90,000 for a "family" whatever that is and whatever rental rate that will come to in the end.
The Upper keys have developed a system, if you can call it that, of housing employees on the mainland and busing them to their jobs in Key Largo and Islamorada. They use Greyhound equivalents services that run through the Keys and you will see clumps of people every afternoon waiting to be transported home. It's an option not available a hundred miles to the south though some people commute from Homestead to Key West and spend only weekends at home. Some few businesses offer employee housing to try to help ease the shortage.
Housing costs and shortages are  a fact of life and I have nothing new or sensible to offer on the subject. The only reason I bring it up now is thanks to the developments coming into existence over the inevitable objections of people who fear living with the poor for neighbors.
I have tried to make the most of my privilege, having a job that pays a living wage, a landlord who is a decent human being beyond any expectations, of having the time to escape the stresses of daily living and see the beauty in the Keys that appeals to me and hardly anyone else apparently. 
Every time climate change shows up in the public consciousness there is an expectation that house prices will plummet and everyone in the low lying Keys will get the flooding and destruction of wealth that they deserve. One day that prediction seems bound to come true but for now we live as we ever did, with heavier traffic, still inexpensive carbon produced electricity and absolutely no awareness of sustainability among the majority of the population. 
I look for beauty and I find it. Everything else is noise. IF you have somewhere to live. And a job. Etc...

Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither
do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly
Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?

Friday, January 24, 2020

Downtown Under Gray Skies

I saw a burst of sunlight as Rusty and I passed but all too soon it was gone.
 The day was one of gray overcast skies, heavy cloud and intermittent rain.
It's unfortunate for visitors who usually put a brave face on it describing snowdrifts and limited hours of daylight and no sunshine Up North. Then they come here and are greeted by something less than tropical weather. 
For me it's a pretty good deal as the clouds bring cooler weather and rain isn't that bothersome in Key West as it tends to come and go and is never too terribly cold (unless you are on a motorcycle).
 A child's shoe. Just one. No idea why it was left on Whitehead Street:
I took refuge under the awnings on my side of Front Street near Clinton Square just like the stranger in the picture below. I watched the rain come down for a while with Rusty sitting at my feet enjoying the scenery. He loves to people watch. 
We walked through Mallory Square in the gray half light, shade from the momentary appearance of the sun through the clouds. It's an automatic reaction when you've lived in Florida: see shade, walk in it.  A few days later a violent moment swept through the homeless denizens of Mallory Square and one guy reportedly beat the other guy not with a bat or a knife or a gun butt or something more conventional. Apparently the offensive weapon was a glass tip jar shaped like a fish, and  one man ended up in the hospital. The other was arrested.
That sort of news will force some sort of reaction by the city. You can't have bums fighting at a major tourist attraction and not have consequences. 
The La Concha Hotel above and the old Kress Building below on other side of the Fleming Street intersection at Duval. La Concha's claim to fame is this is where Ernest Hemingway lived when he first came to Key West and got struck here for a few weeks with his wife..
The Kress building used to be the eccentric department store called Fast Buck Freddie's. Now its a chain pharmacy and so Key West keeps evolving.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Dinghy Life

I was surprised to see small boats making progress through the harbor yesterday and when I realized how many of them I photographed I saved the pictures for a separate cold front essay.
Technically the winds have not produced a proper gale as the winds reported to 35 miles an hour have been mere gusts and not sustained, however these are mathematical calculations and merely standing on land facing the wind you could say it feels like  gale.
Sailors like all humans have a tendency to exaggerate, thus in a  sea story waves have the ability to get taller and deeper and winds increase in strength exponentially in the telling. What may not be proper reporting makes for much better storytelling.  Being securely tied up in a marina makes for a crappy story but much more comfortable living.
Note the tightly wrapped black plastic garbage bag in the bow. Unromantic but critical device for the average liveaboard who wants stuff to travel and remain dry. I cannot imagine this boater's return journey in a  small inflatable with an equally small outboard. It would be a long slow wet ride.
There are those who eschew outboards altogether as instruments of the devil, naming no names Webb Chiles, who takes pride in rowing his inflatable. Who can argue with the health benefits and general manliness of a pair of properly sized oars? I can. It's too much hassle for daily living at anchor. I am in the mainstream here.
A nice hard dinghy with a big motor. Naturally that makes towing or storing the thing difficult for the average modest sailboater so a dinghy in this work boat style usually  indicates a sailor who sails less and anchors in one spot more. But he commutes mostly dry in the heaviest winds.
I was trying to capture wave action. always modest in these shallow waters, along the breakwater protecting the Bight and to my astonishment another small rubber doughnut dipped  and bobbed into my viewfinder.
That was the best I could do to illustrate massive overwhelming seas submerging the north shore of Key West. I have to admit I didn't look really hard as my digits were numb and my brain was following suit.
I had, as reported elsewhere, a slow intermittent exit from Key West around four post meridian as vehicles struggled to find alternatives to North Roosevelt. Traffic snarls don't bring out the best in people and I saw lots of pushy car drivers and distracted phone operators. I was at least inside with the heater on. Then I noticed a gaggle of cyclists at the light at South Roosevelt. It didn't look much fun but I thought perhaps it was better than bouncing around and taking a shower in a dinghy.
Whichever way you look at it travel yesterday in the Lower Keys had it's challenges.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Gusts To 35

The National Weather Service on White Street wasn't messing around. They spoke of the coldest air mass this season, strong winds and wind chills possibly into the 30s. All of which may sound like small beer to people wading through snowdrifts to their cars but as we shall see my winter "gear" is a windproof jacket and a pair of socks. I find it hard to explain but temperatures this low are reserved for people from Up North with lily white legs (they are the ones in shorts) and minimal sun exposure; for everyone else it's simply very cold.
For normal people around here a projected wind chill of 36 calls for strong Cuban coffee at least and anyone lucky enough to have heat will be firing up the coils while enjoying the smell of singed cat hair given off by long disused heating elements. Anyone needing to air out those parts long since given up to heat and humidity has only to splay themselves out in one of many locations exposed to the northwest winds and all memories of humidity will be blown away. See below.
Life goes on and tourists expecting a blistering summer in January will be disappointed by these conditions. Food will continue to be served even in places like Conch Republic Seafood, a restaurant that usually offers the full seafront experience by not having gauche window panes between diners and the salt water.
Schooner Wharf Bar, also a north facing waterfront eatery solves the problem similarly with plastic windows. Not exactly tropical but they do the job for the souls brave enough to abandon their frigid rooms.
All fishing I am told goes down the commode in this weather. The weather service was screaming about Small Craft Advisories last I looked in an effort to stop even  the most determined from setting forth to do battle in inadequate vessels.
The operators of the most seaworthy craft were taking yesterday to do maintenance. Nevertheless we can rely on some few stalwarts to try to face. high seas and strong winds in center consoles and heaven forbid pontoon boats. They've done it before but one hopes wisdom will keep visiting pirates safely ashore in winds this strong.
It was a funny day yesterday which I only worked a half shift so I had a chance to wander before going to the gym. After that interlude my efforts to leave Key West were thwarted for about 45 minutes by a. serious accident involving a scooter apparently on North Roosevelt. After I got over my PTSD (and I trust without much hope a helmet was worn) I found myself in an endless slow moving line with the smart people pushing and cutting in. The wreck pushed everyone onto Flagler Avenue which I had previously chosen as my escape route from the city merely to avoid the usual crush of crazies on the Boulevard. It turns out everyone else was clogging up my "private road." Very funny. At least this time it wasn't me on the helicopter so I was able to take the inconvenience with equanimity.
Then two trucks had a meeting on Ramrod Key and closed Highway One but that only prevented me from taking Rusty to his favorite afternoon walk. What it did to the lives of those involved I don't know but I have an idea.  So by the time I did arrive home an hour late he was just glad to see me. Equipped as he is with a  thick fur coat he was ready for a walk whether I was or not...
Key West was looking lovely under bright blue skies with puffy white clouds pushed fast across the sky.
Walking the docks made me glad my home is well anchored and secure. Which is not say the wind didn't howl around the building all night and getting up before dawn was a trial today. A fifty degree morning with 30 mile an hour winds is crippling when you are used to finding 70 degrees a bit brisk. I jammed the zipper on my jacket with cold fingers and Rusty mocked my  fumbling by frolicking and dancing in the cold. 
All this wild weather is a reminder as if I needed it that I need to get used to temperatures other than tropical if retirement is to be taken anywhere north of Lake Okeechobee...Last weekend at the RV show I looked around Tampa and it appeared wintry to me, bare trees, leaves on the ground and gray skies even if there was no frost. I saw it snow once in Tampa when I lived there around 1990. Stuff you don't see down here though rumor has it flakes were seen in Key West in the 1970s. Walking Rusty at 4 am was COLD even if frost and snow free.
So you want the romance of living at anchor? Get used to plunging and rolling on a few cold nights. A wet ride to shore and an even wetter ride home at night is on the cards this week.  Not I would say, the time to be using a dinghy.
I have to note the Ft Myers ferry was moving through the harbor rather gingerly, though that may have been my cold infused imagination. I am guessing the ride down was wet and fast but the ride home in the evening against the wind would be something rather rougher heading into strong north winds.
It was windy but not unpleasant under the sun on the fishing pier and boardwalk in front of the Galleon resort.
I tried to smile for a selfie in my windproof winter jacket. Its also pretty good against rain which happily I didn't need in this winter cold front.
I love that it rains mostly, usually, in the summer around here. In a normal winter a quick shower is followed by sunshine after the clouds blow over. Not quite so cold would be nice.
Looks lovely: feels cold. Sorry - it just does even if you are used to sub zero days. Enjoy your snow. I hate snow. And I'm not crazy about cold fronts if that wasn't obvious. Rusty loves them.