Key West’s homeless shelter is now a 24-hour operation.
The around-the-clock change happened in March, as people were told to stay home due to COVID-19 infection rates.
“It wasn’t a big fight, it just happened,” said Elicia Pintabona, executive director of Cornerstone Resource Alliance, which this week won a three-year contract to start managing Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter. “It just happened naturally because of COVID and sheltering in place.”
Having a 24-hour shelter in Key West has brought positive changes, Pintabona said.
Within two months of the change, Lower Keys Medical Center saw a 32 percent decrease in indigent care, according to Pintabona’s proposal to the city.
“That’s a massive number,” Pintabona said. “That’s less stress on first responders. We see less intoxication and we see higher levels of clients wanting to go out and find work because they have a place to come back to.”
The change wasn’t cheap for Key West.
The annual budget, including the chief cost of paying someone to manage it plus utilities, went from $483,335 planned for 2019-2020 to about $706,000 for the new budget cycle.
“It’s extremely reasonable, given the fact it went from 12 hours to 24 hours,” said City Commissioner Sam Kaufman.
Kaufman, before the pandemic, was always against making KOTS a 24-hour center, concerned it would attract people from the mainland to come and stay.
“I’m extremely pleased with how they managed the transition,” Kaufman said of KOTS management. “I’m really rethinking it.”
Pintabona’s Cornerstone nonprofit, which she created and leads as president and executive director, is the new management at KOTS, a 120-bed shelter located on Stock Island on the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office property.
A unanimous City Commission chose to partner with Cornerstone.
Pintabona, however, has worked at the shelter since 2013, when she was a case manager and since 2018 was executive director of the outgoing management, Southernmost Homeless Assistance League, the nonprofit the city dropped earlier this year.
Key West City Manager Greg Veliz said the city was looking to go into a different direction while complimenting SHAL on its work. Cornerstone won a three-year contract with the city to manage KOTS for $686,422, for the first year. The contract starts Oct. 1.