Thursday, the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition, which provides services to the homeless, and Monroe County Social Services interred the ashes of 71 people at the coalition’s vault at the Key West Cemetery.
After all died, no one claimed their bodies. So their ashes were put to rest in the vault during the annual Homeless Persons Memorial Day ceremony. Nine of those interred were homeless.
Those nine were most likely what are termed chronically homeless. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines chronically homeless as “either (1) an unaccompanied homeless individual with a disabling condition who has been continuously homeless for a year or more, OR (2) an unaccompanied individual with a disabling condition who has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.”
Homeless is defined as “a person sleeping in a place not meant for human habitation (e.g. living on the streets, for example) OR living in a homeless emergency shelter.”
It is heartbreaking that someone could die on the streets and not have any family or friends to give them a burial for whatever reason, whether it’s separation from family or merely the cost of a burial. The Outreach Coalition and Social Services deserve applause for making sure all who died the past year with no one to claim them are put to rest with dignity.
It should be a reminder to everyone in the Florida Keys that we do have a big homeless problem here. The homeless are in Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Lower Keys. But especially Key West.
There is an Outreach Coalition shelter on Stock Island on Sheriff’s Office property but Sheriff Rick Ramsay says it’s time to find a better solution. He wants the shelter, the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter, moved. So do residents of a neighboring condo complex, who sued to get it to move. The city of Key West settled and said the shelter would move.
And yet, years later, there has been no traction. Key West city officials keep talking about it but haven’t done anything about it. For years Mayor Craig Cates and others have said a new shelter should be built down the road on a former Easter Seals site. But now Cates and others say that land should be used to build workforce housing. Such housing is not where homeless people move.
We know officials throughout Monroe County are dealing with a lot of stuff stemming from the Category 4 Hurricane Irma that slashed the Keys in September. But we also know it’s time to stop kicking the problem of the homeless down the road.
There needs to be a place for them where services are provided to help them integrate back into society. If there isn’t, the problem will only get worse. The homelessness in the Keys can’t be ignored forever.