Monday, September 13, 2010

Temporary Shelter

At a time when local governments are cutting back, the city of Key West and Monroe County in partnership are holding steady on their commitment to the poorest of the poor. Jesus would be proud.It started out called the Safe Zone, a place where people without shelter could spend the night without charge and without fear. Monroe County's then-Sheriff Rick Roth donated a piece of wasteland at the back of the Sheriff's Headquarters and Jail complex on Stock Island. It was an inspired location back in 2004, so close to the Sheriff's office and so far from most of the rest of the respectable population.So, Saturday afternoon they had an open house for the public to see how things are going at the Shelter in these tough fiscal times. Recently City Commissioner Rossi had some negative things to say about the Shelter, known these days at KOTS. Gina Pecora, Deputy Director of the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition was very polite as she took me round saying he had been misquoted. I hope so. I think KOTS is a tremendous place and should be an example to communities across the country as the Depression takes hold and more respectable people fall off their middle class perches. Every guest checks in, with ID and gets a bedroll, a chance to shower with a place to sleep for the night.The fact is, and critics are reluctant to admit this, that with rents as high as they are in the Lower Keys an average working Joe can't raise $3,000 for first last and deposit and utilities and a small stash of money to survive the move to a place to live. They may have a job and many of the residents of this place do work, but they are the definition of working poor. The separate shower stalls for men and women feature private toilets and a level of cleanliness and order that would shock those like Commissioner Rossi who apparently feel the need to pick on the least among us. This place start out as a collection of tents but now the guests are housed in fiberglass Quonset hut types of buildings.
Each male guest gets a mattress inside the huts.Each place has a space for personal belongings at the head of the bed and a hook on the wall. It is extremely well thought out.
Cleanliness, as the saying goes, is next to Godliness. Trustees from the jail spend 6 hours each day cleaning the place down and that includes the bedding and mattresses.
There are apparently far fewer women who come to spend the night here and they use bunks.
The facility is staffed by paid workers overnight and the place is covered by security cameras so overnight security guards can keep an eye on the place form their central booth. Gina told me lots of organizations come by and volunteer their time to help the guests with AA meetings and so forth a common feature of life at KOTS in the evening. The facility of operated by the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition which has been doing this type work with the poor since 1992. They are led by the dynamic and personable Reverend Steve Braddock, a man who merits a shot at sainthood in my opinion.
The original operators of the shelter allowed people to stay during the day and that got the goats of the local peanut gallery which vocally opposes the Biblical injunction to take care of the poor. These days the shelter doesn't allow stays during the day and doesn't offer a location from which homeless people can base themselves while they are out in the city by day.
You'd have thought that letting the idle in spirit to hang out here out of sight might please those who complain loudest about unkempt people littering city parks. Not so. The most common suggestion is to give them a one way bus ticket to the mainland. Like Miami wants Key West's down and outs.
I frequently hear the housed speak with contempt of the houseless as though it is a desirable life to life without a permanent place to live, or without direction or a place in society. I don't think that life at the bottom of the chain is one filled with self respect or an opportunity to get away with anything at all. Riding a bicycle on Sheriff's property doesn't seem that reckless to me. But the Sheriff's HQ is right there and the law is the law.
This is home for the legions of workers seen trudging up College Road on Stock Island from Key West at the end of the work day.
Under Florida Law as stated by the Supreme Court local law enforcement can only arrest people for sleeping in public if the local agency offers those people a place to sleep. Thus it is the Shelter serves a very real purpose in Key West. Even if it shares a compound with dead Sheriff's cars.The shelter is located in the distance between the palm trees seen to the left in the picture below:
And on College Road there is no mention of KOTS, though this is where the bus stops on the way to and from Key West and south Stock Island.
Out here s where they gather, the human left overs and share their stories with the only people that will listen.
Each other.