Florida Keys

Key West missed a deadline to move its homeless shelter. The county wasn’t happy.

The Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter takes in about 100 people per night at 5537 College Road.
The Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter takes in about 100 people per night at 5537 College Road.

Monroe County officials on Wednesday gave the city of Key West another year to relocate its homeless shelter — off county land and within the city limits.

A deadline to move was set a year ago as Sept. 27, 2018, but city leaders decided to build workforce housing on the spot nearby on College Road that they had reserved for the homeless shelter.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Rick Ramsay, who supported giving the city extra time, wants to eventually build workforce housing on the land where the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter remains, 14 years after it opened as a temporary location to provide about 100 people a night with a place to sleep.

Ramsay said he wants to build 30 or 32 units of workforce housing for his employees but said the project would require zoning changes and raising the height limit from 25 to 40 feet, which requires putting the question out to the voters as a referendum.

KOTS is located at 5537 College Road next door to the county jail and sheriff’s headquarters.

“We need to change the name to Keys Overnight Permanent Shelter,” said County Commissioner Heather Carruthers of Key West.

County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy, of Key Largo, slammed the city for missing the deadline.

“You have thumbed your nose at the county commission especially for the last year,” Murphy said to an audience that included Key West City Manager Jim Scholl. “Who is more important to the welfare for this county, the homeless or the sheriff’s deputies?”

Scholl acknowledged the city has no plan for the shelter’s relocation, which it must do to settle a lawsuit brought in 2011 by nearby condo owners.

“We’re not ready,” Scholl said. “We’re not there. For now there is no good solution for a lot of reasons.”

But Scholl added that the homeless problem is not solely a Key West problem.

“The city of Key West is in Monroe County,” he said.

“We know people would be living under a county bush without KOTS rather than a city bush,” said County Mayor David Rice.

The vote Wednesday was unanimous to move the deadline to Sept. 27, 2019.

“Locating a shelter like this is not easy,” said County Commissioner Danny Kolhage of Key West. “This is an extremely difficult thing to do.”

But Kolhage noted this is the last extension for the city.

“If it comes to it and nothing gets done, we’re going to close the door,” he said.