Florida Keys

Shelter wants money to buy bus tickets home for the homeless

Many homeless flock to Key West and don’t have bus fare to get home.
Many homeless flock to Key West and don’t have bus fare to get home.

The nonprofit that operates the city of Key West’s homeless shelter has made a public plea for donations so it can resume buying bus tickets for people who want to return home but can’t afford the fare.

For years, various Key West charities have provided one-way bus tickets for homeless men and women who find themselves stuck at the end of the road without the means to return from where they came.

But the Southernmost Homeless Assistance League says it needs financial help from the community to restore its “homeless relocation” program, which was suspended at the end of September due to a lack of funding.

Until recently, SHAL had bought more than 350 bus fares to help homeless people back to a more reasonably priced city. Now, it has a waiting list, said Executive Director John Miller.

“The first week we had no money, it was eight,” Miller said Friday of the number of people who would have left on a bus this fall.

Ticket prices vary, of course. On Thursday, a Greyhound one-way ride from Key West to Chicago was $175 if bought a week in advance while a trip to Miami was available for $33 on Dec. 3 or $51 on Sunday.

In exchange for the bus tickets, clients agree not to return to Monroe County, said Miller, who wants to raise $20,000 to keep the program alive through most of 2017.

“The Keys can be a tough place to make ends meet due to the high costs of housing and living and low wages for unskilled workers,” according to a statement Miller released Nov. 21. “Sometimes a person’s best option is to relocate ‘back home’ where family, friends, housing and employment can more easily add up to self-sufficiency.”

SHAL manages KOTS, on Stock Island, for the city on a budget of about $430,000 a year and recently asked the City Commission to start negotiating a deal for it to build and run a new homeless shelter on Stock Island. Key West must relocate its shelter, 5537 College Rd., in order to settle a 2011 lawsuit by nearby condo owners who claimed it was built without proper permits.

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen