County: Homeless shelter must move in 2018

A need for workforce housing on Stock Island could displace the Lower Keys’ primary homeless-shelter complex in 2018.

The Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter will be given one year to find a new location after 13 years of operating at the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office campus on College Road, Monroe County Commission members decided Wednesday.

“We got assurances it was temporary... They came and they never left,” Sheriff Rick Ramsay told commissioners Wednesday at a special meeting in Key West. “If we do not give them a drop-dead date, we’ll be back here again and it will never come to an end.”

County commissioners agreed on a unanimous vote. “It’s not an easy subject and don’t want to get into contest with Key West,” Mayor George Neugent said. “We were hoping and planning on doing the admirable thing but we’ve got to get that property cleaned out.”

KOTS, established by the city of Key West and managed by the Southernmost Homeless Assistance League, provides overnight sleeping and sanitary facilities in a series of structures with close-quarter cot spaces that can accommodate 150 people.

The Sheriff’s Office needs the site to erect staff housing that may reduce the agency’s high turnover rate, caused by the Florida Keys’ high cost of living, Ramsay said.

“The Sheriff’s Office has carried the water long enough,” he said. “We need to move forward on a much-needed project to try to save our work force.”

Key West Mayor Craig Cates said Friday the city was hoping for more time while it works on plans to expand affordable housing and relocate KOTS.

If no agreement can be reached, KOTS “might close. Then we would not have a shelter and we’d all have to deal with it,” Cates said Friday. “It’s not all the city of Key West’s responsibility. The county uses the shelter, too.”

“You can’t arrest people for sleeping on the streets if there’s no place to send them,” Cates said. “It’s a complicated situation.”