Being Homeless in Key West


Sloan and Kari
Sloan and Kari

by Sloan Bashinsky…….

There is a really different kind of homeless man in Key West right now. He has debilitating Raynaud’s disease, which causes a person to feel cold and want to live in a warm climate. This fellow said he took to traveling after his “normal” life stopped working well. On foot he mostly traveled. He told of trekking into San Diego, California with a small backpack and finding himself downtown surrounded by a S.W.A.T. team and snipers – they thought he had a bomb in his backpack. Nope, just a few belongings.

He took to my lady Kari and me, and, when he can, he looks out for her when I am not with her.

I saw him the other day and hailed him and we talked a while. He was on a bicycle he had made out of old discarded bicycles. He checked out my old one-speed bicycle, like a pro, declared it reasonably fit. He touched the light-weight parker he was wearing, said he was cold one day, needed something to wear over his shirt, and he found the parker on the ground. He said that happens to him wherever he is. He needs something. It is there without him having to look for it. I asked if he’d ever heard of a woman who was called The Peace Pilgrim? He said, no. I said I read a book about her once. She was a traveler like he is. An older woman. She only carried a toothbrush and a comb and had only the clothes on her back. Whatever else she needed just showed up when she needed it. If she was cold, a blanket showed up, for example.

I said I sometimes have thought of taking off and giving that way of living a try. I’ve talked with Kari about doing it, but she’s not interested in living that way, so maybe I will never give it a try. Maybe it’s just a romantic notion of mine, which, upon my trying it, would make me wish I’d never heard of The Peace Pilgrim, who challenged lots of mainstream ways and sacred cows, and maybe in that way she was not so peaceful. But she was gentle soul, and wise. She got people’s attention, when she spoke.

Kari arrived from having gone into a store to use the bathroom. We told our homeless friend that Jane Doe, who, after smoking spice had a seizure and was ambulanced to the hospital and then she flat-lined and later was released and had another seizure, has made arrangements, she told us at the soup kitchen the day before, to leave the Florida Keys using a one-way Greyhound bus ticket headed to her daughter’s home on the mainland, and she is going to give up the drugs. Our friend said he had heard that news and it had been a wake up call for Jane and either you answer a wake up call, or you don’t.

Our homeless friend is really different. I suppose his disease has something to do with that – I mean, what does a person do, who no longer can live where there is cold weather? Head for somewhere it’s warm. Just makes sense. Ask any homeless person in Key West if they’d like be homeless anywhere it’s cold? It’s rough enough being homeless in Key West even when it’s not cold here.

Well, I bet our peace pilgrim friend could care less how the voters will come down on the whether or not the city should buy the Peary Court apartments referendum, or on anything, for that matter, which many people in this city think is important for this city to do. But it has fallen on me, and now on Kari, to be involved in this city’s affairs, often in ways not appreciated by city government leaders and employees, the general population, homeless people, and some of my readers.

In the Key West Citizen the other day:

“The recent point-in-time survey of homeless people in the Florida Keys counted 752, a 22 percent increase over 2015, according to preliminary numbers released Monday by the nonprofit that sponsored the annual project.”

“But the project’s leaders said 752 represents the number of surveys collected from about 60 volunteers who searched across the county Jan. 27 for homeless men, women and children, and may only mean more homeless were reached.”

In other words, past homeless surveys understated the number of homeless in the Florida Keys. How many volunteers were used last year? The year before that? If you’d used 80 volunteers this year, you might have found 1,000 homeless in the Keys.

The higher the homeless numbers in an annual survey, the more funding homeless help agencies like Continuum of Care, Southern Assistance Homeless League (SHAL), Florida Keys Outreach Coalition (FKOC), Samuel’s House, the free medical clinic in Key West, and KOTS (Key West’s homeless shelter) might receive, the more people the homeless help agencies might hire, the more home homeless people they might try to help.

Also from that Citizen article:

“While this year’s number was higher, the results show fewer homeless were unsheltered, at 33 percent compared to 51 percent the year before.”

Hmmm, .33 X 752 = 274 unsheltered homeless in the Keys. I imagine there are around 300, or more, unsheltered homeless on Key West and adjacent Stock Island, if you count the Stock Island jail’s homeless.

How many homeless inmates at the jail? Over 100, at any given time. I imagine the homeless bunking with relatives and friends is considerably understated. Maybe 100 people live in motor vehicles the Key West/Stock Island area. The city views all people who live on boats off shore as homeless. Probably another 100.

Did the survey ask homeless people if they are HIV positive? I was not asked that by the Continuum of Care worker who interviewed me.

Other questions I would have asked during the survey and and then published the statistics:

1. Why are you homeless?
2. How long have you been homeless?
3. How many times a week do you bathe?
4. Do you have medical problems? If so, pleased describe them and any treatment you are receiving and how it is being paid for.
5. Do you receive monthly $$ benefits? If so, from what agency and how much per month?
6. Do you have a paying job? If so, how much are you paid a month?
7. Do you receive food stamps? If so, your monthly $$ benefit.
8. Do you sell your food stamp benefits for cash? If so, how much cash to you get for each food stamp dollar? What do you buy with the cash you get from selling your food stamps?
9. Do you use alcohol or other addictive drugs? If so, which drugs do you use. How much per day on average? How much do you spend for drugs per week?
10. Are you hit on sexually by people who are not homeless? If so, do you have sex with them? If so, do they pay you money or give you anything in return, like food, clothes, shelter, alcoholic beverages or other drugs?
11. Do you eat at the soup kitchen on Flagler Avenue? If so, how often per week?
12. Do you stay nights at KOTS? If so, how often per week?
13. If you do not stay nights at KOTs, why don’t you stay there?
14. Describe your experiences with city police.
15. Describe your experiences with sheriff deputies.
16. Describe your experiences with city park and recreation personnel.
17. Describe your experiences with county park and recreation personnel.

Now for some fun heard on the street lore reported to me by homeless people:

Mainstream people look for homeless people, who tend to be cash poor, and ask them to sell their food stamp benefits in exchange for a discounted amount of cash, usually 50 cents on the dollar, per month. The mainstream people hold and use the food stamp cards, which the homeless renew every six months.

A different variation is a mainstream person pays a homeless person a lump sum for the food stamp card, and that’s all the homeless person gets and the mainstream person uses the card until the benefits run out.

A homeless man I know told me this week that a Faustos checkout clerk once had asked him to sell her his food stamp benefits for 50 cents on the dollar. Faustos is City Commissioner Jimmy Weekley’s family business. The homeless man said he declined the offer.

A homeless woman told me this week of a city employee using several homeless people’s food stamp cards he bought cheap, to buy food for himself and his family.

Mostly, homeless use the cash they receive for their food stamp cards, to buy alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, marijuana, spice, etc., which cannot be purchased with food stamp cards. (Much the same happens to many homeless’ VA and Social Security retirement or disability checks.)

It’s a federal crime to sell a food stamp card, but it happens all the time with homeless people.

Kari said the city needs to get local food stores to require people presenting food stamp cards, to also present a photo ID matching the name on the food stamp card. Kari said a photo ID is required to get a food stamp card. I said that would take care of the problem, if the stores went along with it, but I doubt many stores would go along with it, even if the city passed an ordinance requiring 2 photo IDs for people presenting food stamp cards.

Moving laterally, I’m hearing on the street reports of mainstream people, including city employees, having sex with homeless women, in exchange for providing the women something in return – shelter, food, clothing, not arresting them, or whatever.

Moving to the homeless spice trade …

Kari called me the other morning from Bayview Park, to report she had just been accosted by a fellow I will call C-Spice, waiving a printout of one of my posts at, containing Kari’s and my photograph, in which post I wrote C-Spice sells spice to homeless people in Bayview Park. Kari said C-Spice said he is headed to the police station to file slander charges against me, and he is looking for me. I laughed, said, two Key West police officers told us about 2 weeks ago that they know C-Spice sells spice in Bayview Park, and they mentioned a couple of other people who do, too.

Kari said, after C-Spice left headed toward the police station, a local homeless Frisbee player told her she and I have big mouths and he’s going to take care of her.

I left where I was and pedaled my bicycle to Bayview Park.The Frisbee player was throwing Frisbee with a fellow I have seen in the park bad wasted on spice and who know what else? As have I many times seen the Frisbeen player in the park bad wasted on spice and who knows that else? Mike Tolbert, who manages KOTS for Southern Assistance Homeless League, which is paid by the city to run KOTS, told me recently that the Frisbee player is off of spice and booze, back on his meds, and doing great at KOTS, even as I was seeing quite the opposite from the Frisbee player in Bayview Park.

Mike Tolbert and I have always agreed spice is very bad news. It was Mike who told me about a spice lab in the mangroves just off College Road across from the Easter Seals property. It was Mike who told me homeless people had told him commercially made spice is sold under the counter in Key West a number of Key West convenience food stores, and Navy personnel, mainstream people and homeless people get it there, if they don’t get it on the street, or make it by spraying potpourri with a bug spray of some kind.

Anyway, I told the Frisbee player, if Kari ever calls me again because he has threatened her, I’m calling the police on him. This is his one and only free pass. The Frisbee player told me to get away from him. I was standing about 10 feet from him. He said he didn’t threaten Kari. He said he never threatened anyone. I said I personally saw him physically threaten people at KOTS, and that got him banned from there. I said I had seen him in Bayview, wasted on spice. I said again, this was his one free pass. If he threatened Kari again, I was calling the cops on him. The Frisbee player told the fellow he was throwing Frisbee with to go with him to the other side of the park, and he left. The fellow did not go, but sat down under the big tree where the Bayview Park spice club members most like to hang out during the day time.

I look forward to C-Spice looking me up. Good luck him getting the cops to bring slander charges against me. Slander is not a crime, but is a civil offense. It’s not even that, if it’s the truth. Maybe the police will do something about C-Spice selling spice to homeless people in Bayview Park. If they do, then I imagine Kari and I will catch even more hell from the Frisbee player and other Bayview Park spice club members, some of whom stay nights at KOTS.

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