Key West homeless shelter director fired after Irma

The director of Key West’s homeless shelter was fired in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma after he opened the shelter without the permission of the city or his boss, saying he couldn’t reach anyone at the time.

Mike Tolbert, 54, who ran the homeless shelter for three years, says he was also fired for sending what he calls a whistleblower letter to board members of the Southernmost Homeless Assistance League, which manages the shelter for the city.

Tolbert also sent the letter, which calls the Stock Island shelter dirty with rash-inducing scabies lurking in bunks, to city officials.

“All I did was my job, that’s it,” Tolbert said.

In an email to a Keynoter reporter, John Miller, SHAL’s executive director, said reopening the shelter was not the reason for Tolbert’s firing but he wouldn’t elaborate and wouldn’t return a phone message seeking comment.

“He told me he was going to fire me for opening it up, and he followed through,” Tolbert said.

City Manager Jim Scholl said he gave permission for the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter, adjacent to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office on Stock Island, to open after Irma struck Sept. 10.

Scholl said he is looking into the firing, but pointed out he can’t tell a nonprofit how to run the shelter.

Miller announced its opening Sept. 16, but Tolbert recalls opening it up two days earlier. A mother and her 6-year-old showed up seeking shelter, Tolbert said, and he knew KOTS was needed.

Tolbert said Miller wanted to wait for the city to make the decision.

“That’s how people die after a hurricane, waiting for someone else to make decisions,” Tolbert said.

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen