I’ve got a family but I burned all my bridges. I had to go to the jailhouse here to report in because I was a felon and they gave me clothes and shoes and were very helpful. They pointed me in the right direction to turn my life around and I feel really blessed,” said Albert Roy Jr., monitor at the William M. Neece Center for Homeless Recovery.
William M. Neece was a millionaire turn alcoholic-addicted vagabond after a patch of rough road. He stayed with the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition (FKOC) and got back on his feet to become a conglomerate tomato distributor and has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years.
The Neece Center was established in 2003 and can house up to 20 men at a time. The FKOC’s Sunflower and Sunlight Houses serves up to 52 women and children, but does not provide housing. It’s important to note that FKOC is an independent operation, completely separate from KOTS (Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter) that provides beds every night for homeless in Key West.
Homeless shelters are without a doubt a necessity in Key West, however FKOC’s Rev. Stephen Braddock, Ph. D., acknowledges the differences among the homeless population.
“There are situational homeless, which may have an event trigger them such as a loss of job, or spiral into addiction. But they can turn their lives around in a short period of time,” said Braddock, “and there are the chronic homeless that choose that lifestyle and do not want programs. They are drawn here by the good weather.”
Braddock said he’s seen the homeless situation improve over the years.
“We have seen a tremendous decline in homeless numbers since 2003 and our programs keep homeless out of jails and ERs which can cost more thousands and thousands of dollars,” he said. “Eighty percent of our clients transition to permanent housing.”
Many clients come from KOTS and some arrive under other circumstances.
“People live on boats and are physically unable to make it out to their boat anymore and come here,” said FKOC Support Services Director Stephanie Kaple. “Somebody can’t travel to their boat in a dingy if they are undergoing cancer treatment.”
FKOC applicants must demonstrate a need and willingness to get help. For example, the homeless must undergo a background check and have no violent or sexual criminal history. Applicants must attend meetings daily and submit to drug and alcohol tests. Residents must volunteer or work on weekdays, all day, and can stay no longer than 90 days.
Most residents at the Neece Center end up there due to bad situations. Alisa Bazo is no exception.
“I was in an abusive relationship and my partner was addicted to cocaine. I never did drugs before but tried it to help from the pain of being hit. Before long I was addicted and spending $4,000 a month on the habit,” said Bazo, who now works the desk at the Neece Shelter.
“They communicated with me and showed me someone cares,” said Bazo.
She just earned her GED and is working on her degree at Florida Keys Community College to become a certified counselor. She is paying for her classes through a grant with the AmeriCorps Vista program.
The Neece Center is also home to the Loaves and Fish Food Pantry, which serves hungry individuals from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and offers a free bag of groceries to anybody once every six months. If you are homeless or know somebody who is contact the coalition at 305-295-7580 or stop in the center at 2221 Patterson Ave. Also, the FKOC recently took over the administration of The Heron-Peacock Supported Living program that provides rooms and apartments for mentally ill residents. For more information on to make a donation, visit fkoc.org.