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Key West Still Struggles To Find Permanent Home For Homeless Shelter

John Teets
KOTS was created more than a decade ago. Its future remains uncertain.

Finding an affordable home in the Florida Keys is a real challenge. And so is finding a home for the Key West homeless shelter.

Key West has had a shelter next to the Monroe County jail on Stock Island for more than a decade. It's called KOTS - which stands for Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter. It houses about 150 people in seven temporary structures.

The city agreed to move KOTS, after residents of a condo and marina complex next door sued. And the sheriff wanted the land to build housing for employees.

Monroe County, which owns the property, gave the city a deadline to move the shelter. That deadline expires in six months.

But now the city wants to keep KOTS next to the jail and provide housing for 30 sheriff's employees at a new development for low and very low income workers the city is building nearby.

"There's still a housing crisis. There's still a need for housing. And there's a need for KOTS," said Assistant City Manager Greg Veliz, who updated the Monroe County Commission on the plan Wednesday. "The two are joined, because of the current location of KOTS and the sheriff's needs."

But the deal still has some issues. Most sheriff's deputies make too much to qualify as low income. And commissioners said some two-bedroom units should be available.

And residents of the condo next door are still opposed to the shelter's current location.

Nancy Klingener

Veliz told county commissioners that the lawsuit was "moot." It was dismissed — after the city agreed to move the shelter.

But the notion of keeping the shelter in or near its current location came as a surprise to some Sunset Marina condo residents, who came to the County Commission meeting.

"We're here to find out why KOTS is still here," said Jim Spreitzer. "It's a temporary shelter. It's supposed to be gone. We're not getting any straight answers."

The city had once planned to move the shelter to the property where it is now working on affordable workforce housing — 104 one-bedroom units.

Putting KOTS on the same piece of land would drastically lower the number of housing units the city could build, Veliz said.

"I don't think they co-exist … there would have to be too many buffers which would take up space that we could use for housing," Veliz said. "We maximized the density there so we could fit as many units as possible."

The city even took a referendum to residents to ease the city's height restrictions, from 25 to 40 feet, so it could add more units.

County attorney Bob Shillinger said the termination last week of the Pottinger Agreement — a federal consent decree that barred Miami police from arresting homeless people "for being homeless" — does not change the status of homeless services and police obligations in the Keys.

Pottinger was cited as one reason for the creation of KOTS — that homeless people could not be arrested unless they had an alternative option to sleeping in public.

"The law is still the law," Shillinger said. "There has to be someplace for them to go."