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Key West Seeks Site For Homeless Shelter

Nancy Klingener

On a three-by-five-mile island, finding a site for a homeless shelter is no easy feat.

Almost 700 people in the Keys are homeless, according to the most recent count. Key West is the island chain's largest city and has the largest homeless population.

For the last 10 years, the city has run a shelter that can house up to 140 people. The Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter, or KOTS, is on the property of the Monroe County Sheriff's Office on Stock Island, near the county's main detention center. Though it is on a separate island, that part of Stock Island is part of the municipality of Key West.

A neighboring condo association sued the city in 2011, claiming the shelter had been built without proper permits. A year ago, the city settled that suit by agreeing to move the shelter. But finding a new location has proven tricky.

Mayor Craig Cates and at least two commissioners wanted to move the shelter to city-owned property on the same road as the current location. That land formerly housed the Easter Seals program and is near more city-owned property that the Monroe County Mosquito Control District plans to leave soon.

But another condo association, this one from the Key West Golf Club, opposed the Easter Seals location. On Tuesday evening, a resolution to move KOTS there failed in a 3-3 tie. One potential vote, Commissioner Mark Rossi, was out of town attending the annual Florida-Caribbean Cruise Conference in St. Maarten.

Another city-owned property that is on the island of Key West has the support of at least two commissioners and the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition, which provides transitional housing and services for the homeless in Key West.

But a proposal to move the shelter to the city's transit center on Palm Avenue was withdrawn Tuesday, after it was clear that no site proposal would win a majority of votes. After a two-hour discussion with impassioned input from the community, the city is still facing a February deadline for Planning Board approval of a new site.

Some commissioners objected to choosing a site without knowing exactly what services would be provided there. Others said the site must come first, and then the city can start planning a new shelter.

"This is the exact same conversation we've had for the last two years," said Commissioner Teri Johnston.

"Everybody agrees we have to do something," said City Commissioner Jimmy Weekley. "And everybody also says 'not in my backyard.'"