The clock is ticking for the city of Key West to find a location for the homeless shelter and city attorney Shawn Smith reiterated how vital it is to take action immediately. At the city commission meeting Tuesday, architect Keith Oropeza put forward a rough blueprint of a homeless shelter that could be placed on the old Easter Seals property to prompt the conversation.
Smith said when the city commission approved the settlement agreement in October of last year (for the 2011 lawsuit filed by Sunset Marina condo owners, who claim the city built an overnight shelter without following its own permitting process), the city agreed to research a new location. Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay has also made it clear he does not want to keep Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter (KOTS) at MCSO headquarters on College Road because it is interfering with the operation of law enforcement duties.
“We are currently on a month-to-month agreement with the county. If Monroe County gives us notice to vacate the property there is no second option and the outcome can be catastrophic,” Smith said. “The quality of life for Key West residents will be affected. The end result will be homeless defecating in public and sleeping on the beach because we cannot enforce these laws without a shelter. The deadline is Feb. 26 of next year. We are behind schedule.”
Keith Oropeza’s design plan is specific to the old Easter Seals property on College Road, No. 2 on the list of desired locations put forth by City Planner Don Craig and his staff in December. (The No. 1 location was the Juvenile Justice Center, but the county ruled it out.) City Commissioner Tony Yaniz said he thought the Easter Seals property should be used for affordable housing instead of a homeless shelter.
“We have had an affordable workforce housing problem since 1940. Do you prioritize affordable housing or a homeless shelter first,” said Yaniz. “Have we truly looked at every possible site? Has the military been forthcoming?”
Commissioner Jimmy Weekley countered Yaniz’s argument and said it will take three to five years to get an affordable housing site up and running. He suggested various tweaks to the building code in certain areas of town to tackle the affordable housing issue.
If the old Easter Seals property does get selected, Oropeza’s design has a food kitchen on site. (Currently the homeless visit the soup kitchen on Flagler Avenue.) Men and women’s living quarters, separate showers, bathrooms and an office are also on the blueprints. There’s also a “time out” building for intoxicated or unruly guests and a separate shelter for families. According to the discussion on Tuesday, the construction would be minimal — basic concrete slabs with roll down sides for bad weather. Mayor Craig Cates brought a resolution forward to be voted on at the next commission meeting, Tuesday, Sept. 30.