Simonton Street Trailer Park Update: “Dear Pope Francis…”

Every night after work, after the landlord had gone home, ‘M’ snuck back into her locked up trailer with no electricity and no water and slept in there.  She knew how to get in and leave no trace.  She would then beg a shower off her neighbor in the am before leaving again for work.

The above account is the ‘inside scoop’ delivered to us by another tenant who is taking part in the great “relocation program” established for those being evicted from the Simonton Street Trailer Park.

Unable to find a new apartment without the unattainable first, last and security, “M” decided to pretend to leave, get the $2,500 pay-off offered by the developer and then start looking for a new place.  Apparently she is still looking.

This is not our first article on the redevelopment of Simonton Street trailer park, and as much as some may wish we would just go away – we won’t.  Following our last article, the developer Joe Cleghorn went to see the tenants who had dared speak with us.

They came unannounced, three of them, Joe Cleghorn and 2 other men,” says one tenant.  She had not yet finished dressing that morning but, “Cleghorn had a declaration he wanted me to sign:  that I was happy with everything, everything was fine.  So, I wrote down on his paper that I expected the $2500 when I left.”

That infamous $2,500 is a big part of the issue.  Most people in the trailer park live paycheck to paycheck.  In order to relocate they expected the $2,500 to help pay the whopping first, last, and security.  The Commissioners we spoke to thought that was how it would work too. But after having promised to create a “relocation team” and make available the “relocation money”, Cleghorn is now dangling that money around, buying tenant’s silent submission to his new way of relocating:  Out by December 5th.  And that’s, out FIRST … money second.

The Simonton Street trailer park redevelopment is not just a sad episode in the life of the less fortunate among us.  It is the canary in the mine that is falling to the bottom of the cage.  The condition of the workforce housing rental market has reached catastrophical proportions.  There is pretty much nothing available for rent, either in the paper or on the internet.

Here’s what we found on the Key West Citizen’s website last night when searching for an unfurnished apartment in the Lower Keys:

citizen no apartments

Yet developers of Peary Court, Simonton Street trailer park and likely countless others obtain development agreements that allow them to do away with large numbers of much needed workforce housing.

“It is time to come up with real solutions,” says Commissioner Lopez who at press time was at a conference in Tampa on community redevelopment.  “I am hearing a lot of excellent ideas coming from other communities,” says Lopez, “Tax incentives is one of them.”

Lopez says he’s been following the Simonton Street trailer park issue from the beginning.  “This is a very important issue, not just this trailer park, but the lack of workforce housing.”

Other Commissioners have expressed worries about what will happen when the other trailer parks go the same route.  Commissioners Teri Johnston and Tony Yaniz, both of whom voted against the re-development plan, were especially vocal.

“If we keep applying this logic,” said Commissioner Tony Yaniz, “imagine if Stadium Trailer Park went away.  What are you going to do then?   Where will we get our workforce from?  Miami?“

It’s high time for an overhaul of City policies on workforce housing.

In the meantime, Joe Cleghorn is sending distressed emails to City staff lionizing his  purported triumphs in relocating his tenants as promised.   There is a simple resolution:  the developer should provide the City with a complete list of every single tenant together with their new permanent address in Key West.  That would probably satisfy everyone.

“I want ‘relocation’ not ‘deportation’,” says “R” who refuses to move to mile marker 18.  “I have been in Key West for 30 years and there is nowhere for me to go.   It’s like saying Key West doesn’t have a housing problem because people can always move back to Detroit.”

Simonton Street trailer park continues to reveal our dysfunctional system and the “appalling silence and indifference of good people.”

That would include the Catholic Church [among others] that sold the trailer park without deed restrictions and appears completely indifferent to the fate of the poor who not long ago were the Church’s wards, living on land donated to the public charity.

Here’s an account we received from “L”:

“I just got home from church at St, Mary’s, and I stayed after to wait for the chief priest (I don’t know his name, I call him “Father”).  Anyway, I re-introduced myself to him, and reminded him that we had met that day at the Food Bank on Stock Island. He acted like he remembered. I brought up a condensed version of the trailer park story, and let him know that it looks like Cleghorn may be in default, as of May 2013, so he does not actually own the property, it is still under contract, and yet, Cleghorn is evicting tenants anyway, and looking for investors to get money he does not have for this project.   I tried to hand him a piece of paper I had brought with the date and name of the blue paper article, and some other pertinent info.  He did not take it.  He was totally uninterested. He said “I want nothing to do with that trailer park, I have a church to run. Take it up with the owner, the church doesn’t own it”.  So, again I pointed out it looked like the mortgage payments were in default, and he said to take it up with the Archdiocese of Miami, so I asked him if there was anyone he could refer me to for assistance, and he said it was nice talking with me, and God Bless me, and off he went.  So much for the priest giving a **** about the poor people.”

Another instructive case is the experience of 65 year-old “K”, a housekeeper and trailer park resident.   According to one of her neighbors, “K” has been on the waiting list at the Housing Authority for the past three years.  Last time she checked she was up in the top ten.  When she received notice that she was being evicted (out between Thanksgiving and Christmas we might add) she made another visit to the Housing Authority office but discovered that her name had somehow been pushed back to past 50.

The reason:  ‘nothin we can do about it – must be a computer glitch.’  She was turned away with the words:  “Trust in the Lord.”  “K” who doesn’t have a car, was forced to move to Lazy Lakes Trailer Park at Mile Marker 18.  At 65 this is not going to make her housekeeping job in Key West any easier.

“I don’t understand how the local Catholic Church could have sold out those people,” says “S”, who is Catholic and remembers with emotion the help her mother and sisters received from their Church when she lost her father.

“I’m very disappointed.  No one would talk to me at the Archdiocese, so I’m writing to Pope Francis.”

The new Pope has an interesting nickname.  According to this ABC News report he’s called the “Cold-Call Pope” for his habit of picking up the phone and calling Catholics around the world.

“Do you think he’s going to call you?”  “I don’t know, but he’ll have my number!”

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