I wish everyone I know had been with me when I bumped into two remarkable people the other day and got caught up with them, as their rich lives and deep experiences and senses of humor and wisdom flowed out of them like manna from heaven. The man is probably the most educated person I have ever known. You could sit him down in any conversation on just about anything, and in short order he would demonstrate just how educated he really is. Yet, he is content to be homeless, read all the books he still needs to read, mind his own business, and serve the homeless in his own way, every day, by helping others enable homeless people to eat and not starve.
When I asked them, facetiously, if they will stay in the new homeless rehab shelter, if it ever gets built?, they snorted, laughed. No way in hell that’s going to happen. They will keep their heads down, like other homeless people do, who have been around a few or more years, and mostly stay off mainstream and its police’s radar, and live out their lives as some of the most interesting people in this part of God’s creation. More interesting than all but a few people I know, to be honest. The woman was featured in Erika Biddle’s homeless art and poetry exhibition, Hidden In Plain View, last year; the man was not. No way he wants that kind of exposure. He used to work for some esoteric US Government agency. He did things he cannot tell about.
As far as I know, neither of them ever caused anyone any trouble. They mind their own business, have many friends and are loved by many people in Key West, and I mean by mainstream people. I was reluctant to tell tell some of their stories, because the Key West police who were involved would know exactly who told it to me, and I feared for my friends’ welfare. However, my Editorial Board, which is not of the human kind, insisted that I tell what I did not want to tell. So, here goes, while doing my best not to identify them.
I start with two of the woman’s stories, which had nothing to do with the Key West police.
Maybe a year ago, after being taken in by a Key West family and given her own room and run of the premises, things seemed to be going well. Then, one night, she woke up to a loud commotion out in the back yard. She went out to see what was going on, and there was some kind of odd religious revival with which she was not familiar, and it scared her and she said it and went back into her room. The next morning, her man host knocked on her door loudly and when she came to the door and opened it, he told her she had to leave. She had no place to go, he knew that. But she had to leave anyway. So, she was homeless, again.
By and by, she found a situation in another couple’s home. The woman was ill and my friend became her nurse and keeper. They told her she would always have a place with them. The woman host had cancer, and as it progressed she was unable to take care of herself, and my friend looked after her in all ways, including bathing her and cleaning her after she relieved herself. When there was talk of putting the woman in a facility, my friend said no, her patient should stay at home, she would take care of her. So the woman stayed at home and my friend took care of her. After two years, her patient died, and right away, the husband told my friend she had to leave, to get out, now. My friend said she had no place to go. The man said he knew that, but get out now. So she left, and was homeless again.
As if to prod me along, I received an email from a fellow who used to live in Key West, but now lives near Homestead.
Reduced to one sentence, this seems the Mayor’s current thesis: “We will not allow them to sleep on the streets or live in the mangroves because we will have a location to take them 24 hours a day.”
That is, if there’s a problem on lower Duval at one in the afternoon, it can be removed identified 24 hours a day.
No jail, no booking, no lawsuits expense emanating from that ’90s Federal ruling in Miami.
Some people would say the Mayor is well advised on this particular point. On the College Road’s preferred use as an Assisted Living Facility, however, the Four Commissioners’ are right, hands down. The City needs to look south of US 1 for homeless space. OK, it may be County land, but that’s not an insurmountable problem. There’s a lot of unused space, and underutilized buildings on South Stock Island, NEAR BUS STOPS, that are far more suitable for use as a homeless facility than anyplace on College Road.
I don’t think Cates stays up nights inventing stratagems designed to cause your two nice friends gratuitous pain.
There are other people on lower Duval who are also “homeless” but who share absolutely no other personal descriptors with your friends: Aggressive Panhandlers. Little, constantly roaming crews of aggressive panhandlers. They’re out there right now, as you read this, day or night. OK, between 5:30 and 8am, when Duval is shut down, they go someplace else.
So, Downtown business owners complain to the Mayor. They tell him that aggressive panhandlers and unconscious drunks are bad for business. Are they Wrong?
Sloan: When you were homeless, would you ever select Duval Street as a desirable sleeping location? I’m guessing that your two friends, if they do get tipsy, would avoid passing out in a Duval Street doorway like they would avoid contracting the Plague. They would find some place on the island with the absolute lowest public profile they could manage on a zero budget. And they don’t panhandle, period. Right?
Because the Mayor needs to enact an enforceable policy but the problem is so complex in its parts, your two friends may well wind up as ‘collateral damage’ in the unfolding scenario. Not a happy thought.
Back in the Seventies, in Miami, there was a debate over the ‘homeless/indigent question. A truly venerable Miami institution called Camillus House was being considered for augmented public policy support and big Federal grants to increase their downtown presence in Miami. Their main location was recognizable because, three times a day, there were lines around the corner for food service. Picture Star of the Sea on Flagler and multiply it. In those days, in Miami, the homeless problem was both seasonal and growing. Hence, the extensive public discussion in’76-’77.
The position of those then opposing radical improvement to Miami’s homeless accommodation and multi – goal people servicing capacity was this: “If you build it, they will come.” Homeless people in Chicago, Detroit , Pittsburg and New York have long known that you don’t freeze to death in South Florida in the wintertime.
A Key West policy on homelessness may recognize that most homeless people here are not reprobates, but making KW an absolute model of homeless program availability may manufacture more problems for this 4 mile island than it ultimately resolves. Maybe if Key West were in North Dakota , one could ask local people and local government to “give, give, give ’till it hurts”, but not here. It’s just not a geographically practical sentiment.
Homelessness is a hard problem to solve anywhere in America. It’s at least doubly so for warm spots like Key West or Miami.
It’ll never be 1976 again here, for your two friends – or anyone else. Sorry, Sloan.
I wrote back (redacted to disguise my friends):
Hi, Paul -
I slept for months in a Fleming Street doorway half a block from lower Duval Street, until 9/11 happened and Key West police went berserk with homeless people, terrorists we all surely were.
Yes, there is a homeless problem on Lower Duval most any time, perhaps around two dozen homeless people scattered about there and a block away, and a few more on Mallory Pier. Most of them are addicts, remain drunk, live to drink. Some panhandle, some do not. You build a 24-hour a day shelter to take them there instead of to jail, when they commit one of the two major felonious homeless crimes of drinking booze in public (while people all around them are drinking booze in public and are not being arrested) and/or of passing out where they drop and sleeping it off. They sleep it off in the 24-hour shelter and wake up dying for a drink, so they wander to where on Stock Island they can try to get their drug of choice, many drug outlets on Stock Island, to avoid what they view as something far worse – the DTs.
They can’t be made to stay in the new shelter, but if it’s a few miles up US 1, say on Rockland Key, that discourages them from going looking for another drink somewhere, since there’s nothing around up there offering another drink. That long way back to Key West might encourage them to go into a nurse-assisted, pharmaceutical drug-assisted detox, with a physician on call, in case a detoxing homeless person goes into cardiac arrest, has a stroke, etc. Then, an ambulance is summoned, and off to the hospital.
Personally, I have no problem with that approach, because I feel all homeless people need to stop drinking, just as I feel lots of mainstream people I know need to stop drinking, and I wish such a facility existed near Key West for both populations. Problem is, though, and the Sheriff, the Guidance Clinic in Marathon, and the De Poo clinic in Key West, all will attest that it’s one thing to detox an addict, and it’s another thing altogether for and addict to stay off booze or whatever is his/her drug of choice. Detoxed homeless addicts leave the jail now and go straight back to their drug of choice, the Sheriff will tell you this.
Maybe some of them will go the straight and narrow after being detoxed, if there are support services around, such as Mayor Cates wants to see at his new homeless shelter, wherever he puts it. But even then, there always are those damned statistics, the long-term relapse rate is horrific, as anyone who regularly attends AA or NA meetings will tell you, if they they are honest. And Key West has no place to house these ticking time bombs, which they can afford, after they “graduate” from Mayor Cates’ new shelter.
Looks like a merry-go-round to me in the long run, although short run it might look pretty good, if the homeless addicts are rounded up and put on Mayor Cates’ reservation, wherever that might end up being.
Let me give you two examples of collateral damage, as you describe it. The first story is about the homeless man, the second story is about the homeless woman.
The homeless man used to spend a lot of time each day in the library, reading. He read the NY Times, Forbes, Barons, Fortune, and all sorts of other weighty stuff. He read fiction and non-fiction books ongoing. He slept at the library every night. He did that for years, and years. Everyone working at the library knew he slept there. They apparently did not mind. They apparently really liked him. Finally, the Key West police arrested and jailed him for sleeping at the library. After that, he quit using the library to read. Now, he told me yesterday, people who know him go to where they know they can find him and give him books and food, and tell them their stories and he listens to them, sometimes for a long time; one person talks his ear off for an hour and a half every time she sees him.
He probably is the most educated person in Key West, and in the Florida Keys, too. He easily could make anyone I know sound like an idiot on most topics they chose to discuss with him. When I saw him yesterday, we spoke of stuff I cannot talk about to anyone else in Key West, because there is no interest, eyes would glaze over. He will not go to KOTS, nor would you, if you were him, or sane. He will not go to Mayor Cates’ new shelter, if it is built. Take him there, he will leave. He cannot be held there. Take him there again, he will leave. Put him in jail, he will go back to his living style upon release.
Now to the woman.
After I told her my story of being viciously bullied by a deputy sheriff at the county library right after 911, as reported in my article in last week’s edition of Key West the Newspaper, she told me of recently sitting outside a place in Key West where she waits every morning to get a copy of the Key West Citizen to read. 5:30 that morning, sitting on a wall next to the store where she trades daily; she knows the owner, they are friends, but the owner is not there at that time of day. A Key West police cruise comes by, hits the brakes, backs up, the officer asks what she is doing? She says she is waiting for the Citizen to be delivered. He says she can not do that. She says, why not? He says because he says so. She says she isn’t doing anything wrong. He says she has to leave. She says, why? He says because he says so. She says she isn’t doing anything wrong, she doesn’t have to leave. He says she is sitting on the wall. She says, so what? The store owner is her friend, she can sit on the wall. He asks if she has written permission to sit on the wall? She says no, verbal permission. He says without a note from the owner saying she can sit on the wall, she has to leave. She says she isn’t doing anything wrong. He calls for back up. Soon, she is surrounded by FOUR Key West police cruisers and their protect and serve officers. Now all of the officers are trying to make her leave, one officer is trying to get her to leave because he is worried what will happen to her if she doesn’t leave. Leave pronto.
Is this story the kind of collateral damage you had in mind, Paul? Is this how you think Mayor Cates’ police should behave at 5:30 a.m.? This woman will never use KOTS. She will never use Mayor Cates’ new shelter. If taken there, she will leave. She is as bright and sharp of tongue as you, Paul. She just might have you for a snack in a debate on this topic, in which you strike me as seriously unrealistic despite your having lived in Key West for years and having hauled homeless people places on city buses for years.
As for the Miami case, aka Pottinger, Key West never has provided, and so far does not indicate it intends to ever provide enough shelter space for its homeless to sleep inside, which was the Pottinger requirement for jailing homeless people who refused to go to a Miami shelter, or be taken to one by the Miami police if they could not get there on their own. Key West has always ignored that part of Pottinger, and, apparently, intends to continue to ignore that part of Pottinger, by not providing enough shelter beds while still harassing, arresting and jailing homeless people for sleeping outside, even when KOTS is full and, later, even when Mayor Cates’ new shelter is full.
Mayor Cates is well aware of what his police are doing, because I made him well aware if it, and he denied it was going on, and I told him not to insult himself, he and everyone involved knew it was going on, and he said homeless were only arrested when they slept where they were not supposed to sleep, and I said, tell me where they can sleep when KOTS is full and I will tell them where that is, and Mayor Cates clammed up.
Not that I don’t sympathize with Mayor Cates and with Key West. Homelessness is a very big problem. Some homeless people are awful to be around, are viewed by other homeless people as dirt bags, punks, terrorists. Unfortunately, such people exist, whether you, Mayor Cates, I, other people, like it or not. Unfortunately, such people will continue to exist. Unfortunately, such people as my two homeless friends will continue to exist. I used to be one of them, in case you have forgotten. I was threatened by Key West police for sleeping outside at night. A terrible crime, worse, it seemed than murder, rape, robbery, the way the Key West police often behaved toward me. While they were bothering me, murder, rape, robbery, they were not doing anything about.
If that’s how Mayor Cates and Key West wish to use their police, that’s their choice. If they wish to build a reservation, or a prison, for homeless people, regardless of who they are, that’s their choice. If they want to spend out the wazoo trying to fix Key West’s homeless problem, that’s their choice. But, is it right for the entire county taxpayer base to pay for Key West’s crusade against homeless people? Of course that’s not right. I dunno, maybe if Mayor Cates gets his way, and the Sheriff and the County Commission agree to help pay for it, they will make the new shelter take in all of the homeless people in the Keys from upper Key Largo down to lower Duval Street in Key West. I suppose that could be done. Imagine law enforcement’s time and transportation costs, day after day, week after week.
You seem to not be reading what I write, Paul. Or you seem not to understand it. Or you seem not to want to understand it. I simply tell it like it is, based on real experience, and based on the law, with which I have training, experience and familiarity. It’s not my call what other people do with what I report and say. What they do or don’t do is their call, and what that might cost in taxpayer dollars is on them. I don’t imagine, though, it matters how much money Key West, with or without the Sheriff and the County Commission’s help, throws at its homeless situation. In the end, Mayor Cates and Key West will be just as unhappy, if not more unhappy, than they now are.
You cannot fix homelessness, anywhere, by throwing money at it. You cannot fix homelessness, anywhere, with police, jails, hospitals, nurses, doctors, mental health counselors, detox programs, shelters and subsidized housing for recovering homeless people, most of whom also are recovering addicts. Nor can you fix homelessness in Key West by sending homeless people on Greyhound to the mainland, because Key West is, as you point out, a warm clime, homeless people cannot freeze to death here in the winter. For every homeless person who leaves Key West, and quite a few of them do leave, another homeless person arrives.
The only way to deal with that is a polar-axis shift, and Key West ends up where Greenland now is. That would fix lots of other serious Key West problems, too, which have nothing whatsoever to do with homeless people.
Speaking of polar-axis shift, the homeless man told me yesterday of how we first met, mid-December 2000.
We were sitting on one of the benches at St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen, when it was still at the church on Truman Avenue. Between us was a fellow holding forth to whomever would listen, that the reason for the 4 seasons is the earth rotates on its axis. My friend to be told the fellow that was mistaken, for the seasons to happen that way would require axis shifts, which would cause huge earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tidal waves, etc. My friend to be said how it happens is the planet maintains its same axis and, as it circles the sun, the southern and northern hemispheres move closer and farther from the sun, and that creates the 4 seasons. The man kept arguing it was due to the earth spinning on its axis, which is what causes day and night. After not getting through the man’s thick skull, my friend to be told the man he had explained it to him, and my friend to be shut up. He said he could tell I was listening. After that, he and I started talking about things that probably would not have interested anyone there that day, nor any other day.
I did not tell him yesterday that I had no recollection of what he told that man that day about the 4 seasons, or of sitting at the same table with him and that man. But if he said it happened, it happened. Just talking with him, or with my woman friend, will produce a polar axis shift, if you are listening to what they say, if you can hear them. Maybe that’s why they are homeless? Nobody in mainstream could hear or understand them, so what was the point in being part of mainstream? I often wonder the same thing for myself, but being homeless was no solution as far as I was concerned. It was just another form of Hell for me, sometimes softened by meeting precious gems like these two remarkable people, whom I never would have met if I had stayed in mainstream.
Todd German, of Key West, recently told me of having just left a Chamber of Commerce meeting, at which the hospital on Stock Island made a presentation (lamentation) about how much free service it provides to indigent people, homeless and non-homeless. But for that indigent service in 2003, I would have died from MRSA. As, imagine would have many Key West people. Back then, the city ran a free medical clinic, headed by retired physician Ian Garriques. It was located in the hospital. I believe Garrizues worked for nothing. I believe his two women helpers got paid. Later, the free clinic was moved to the de Poo building on Kennedy Drive. Later, the free clinic was closed. Then, the hospital emergency room started taking the full load of indigent patients.Todd said something has to be done about the cost of the hospital and the sheriff having to pay for the cost of housing and treating homeless people, I said, well, most of that cost is due to Key West arresting homeless people and taking them to the jail, which either keeps and treats them, or the Key West police just take homeless arrestees straight to the hospital, if they are really drunk or otherwise impaired. I said Key West is driving what the Sheriff and the hospital lament, and the Sheriff and the hospital can either go along with it, or stop going along with it. It’s up to them. It’s not the homeless people’s fault, in most cases, because it’s not them taking themselves to the jail or to the hospital. it’s Key West police doing that.Todd said the hospital is reluctant to quickly discharge homeless people, because if they come back in 30 days, the hospital gets a black mark on its record, I said that’s not what really bothers the hospital. What really bothers the hospital is a homeless person gets released too soon and dies, and the hospital gets sued for malpractice. I said Mayor Cates and his police put the hospital and the Sheriff in that position all the time.
On another former homeless man turned writer, received this below from Peggy Butler, formerly of Key West, now living in West Palm Beach, where she can afford to live. In Key West, she probably would be homeless because of the high cost of housing here. I think this article below was in the Huffington Post, where I have seen prior writings by this man:
Obama and the Peace Prize – a different approach from a formerly homeless writer
Author, ‘Homeless Isn’t Hopeless’
Ever since the Nobel Peace Prize Committee surprised the world by giving the 2009 award to newly elected U.S. President Barack Obama, the selection has evoked controversy.
Early on, objections were based on the claim that it was too early; that the president had not yet any accomplishment worthy of the honor. But soon, the main objection centered around the president’s role as a Commander In Chief who authorized a surge in U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, and was therefore thought to be escalating the war. And now, the possibility of a missile strike on Syria — even though it would be to prevent the use of chemical weapons — is being called into question.
The peace prize choice has been vociferously defended by the Norwegians who chose Barack Obama from among a record 205 nominees. The committee has said the selection was an endorsement of Obama’s stated policies, and as encouragement for what his “extraordinary efforts” could do.
And the committee’s decision is indeed a reflection of Alfred Nobel’s thinking when he established the Nobel Peace Prize more than a century ago as a reward for working toward peace.
Throughout his presidency, Barack Obama’s “extraordinary efforts” have ended one war, in Iraq, and will soon end another one — America’s longest — in Afghanistan. He has worked on solutions to volatile situations in Libya and now Syria without putting American boots on the ground. He has kept alive the possibility of peaceful solutions to confrontations with Iran and North Korea. He has proven to be a president intent on ending wars; not starting them.
And his “extraordinary efforts” have accomplished something else. They have kept us safer.
All but forgotten is the first of several bold moves made by Barack Obama that have made at least one place — the high seas — safer and more peaceful. In April, 2009 the waters of the Mediterranean and Middle East were home to pirate ships which posed a constant threat to international shipping interests
When the captain of an American cargo ship, Maersk Alabama, was taken hostage, President Obama authorized a daring rescue by U.S. Navy sharpshooters. Before that success, six ships had been seized for ransom by pirates. Since then — none.
President Obama authorized another, better-remembered military action that rid the world of Osama bin Laden, and he has overseen the decimation of al Qaeda leadership.
Through it all — as he works for peace, and to keep us safe — this president continues to endure criticism that he is weak and/or indecisive. Those claims are debunked by the record.
Barack Obama is justifying — through “extraordinary efforts” — the faith placed in him by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.
I wrote to Peggy:
I have met and have had some dealings with Bill Laney, and I read his book.
After reading what Bill wrote praising President Obama, I found myself wishing Bill, not I, had been told in his sleep in 2008, that Barack Obama had the potential to be the AntiChrist, and I wished even more that Bill had been the one who was not able to take shit for a month after Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize.
What got that to let up was a nuclear poem that finally erupted out of me, pulverizing Obama. The poem was first aired, nearly spontaneously, at a Key West Poetry Guild monthly gathering, and then a few days later at the Gato pocket park off of Simonton Street, behind First State Bank, during a 24 hour poetry marathon. After that, I was able to shit again.
As far as I know, Bill Laney never returned to independent living. He continued to need subsidized quarters. As do I. Absent something unforeseen happening, in the Act of God category probably, I will never be able to live independent by my own efforts. Perhaps Bill will get there some day, perhaps he already got there. But, just my opinion, he has long ways to go in the peace dimension.
Obama’s long time minister and spiritual adviser, Jeremiah Wright, had USA pretty well sized up; he spoke his mind, which could not possibly have been news to Obama. All those years, Obama knew where Wright stood on America. All those years, Obama stuck by Wright, perhaps even revered him. Then, when Wright stated threatening Obama’s chances of getting elected, by preaching his mind about USA, Obama dumped Wright. Just like that, Wright was wrong, his words unacceptable.
I ain’t too sure God did not damn America long before Wright asked God to do that. For practicing human slavery in the face of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. For genocide against the Native Americans. For treating women like chattel property. For Vietnam. For the war in Iraq. For the war in Afghanistan. Or rather, I ain’t too sure America did not damn America, and God concurred.
When a country claims to be a chosen people, one nation, under God, in America’s case, it sets a far higher spiritual standard for itself than a country which does not claim God-ordination. It invites God to take a special interest in that country. It asks for tests other countries are not given, which do not claim to be favored by God.
When a US President accepts the Nobel Peace Prize, forget the idiots who awarded it to him, while carrying on the two idiotic, capitalistic wars of his predecessor, every American should stop breathing, wonder how that could possibly happen? Every American should wonder what kind of person would accept that Prize, while waging those to wars? Forget the idiots who awarded the Prize to him, and the idiots who voted him into office the second time, after it was crystal clear that he was not a man of peace.
Just my opinion. The Norwegians awarded Obama the Prize because he was the first Black American President. If they had thought Obama was all that great, why didn’t they award him the prize before he got elected? Would they have awarded it to him if he had not been elected? Just my opinion. The Norwegians made their decision solely on the color of race, and not on merit. By contrast, M.L. King, Nelson Mandela, had merit.
Jeremiah Wright might have had merit, too. Did Wright put the ideas into Obama’s mind, which Obama later spoke, and based on that, the Norwegians gave Obama the Prize, instead of Wright?
No telling how many homeless people are veterans of US wars, maybe 20 percent of all homeless?
I bet those dumb-ass Norwegians, who gave Barack Obama the Nobel Peace prize, would do the same for an ex-homeless man, who got elected President, if that ex-homeless man was a hawk.