Great Idea – Upper Keys Community Resource Council

hands joining-770559__340Saw this story in the Free Press.  Several groups have come together to help people who are struggling in the Upper Keys.

Patrice Schwermer is the co-chair of the Upper Keys Community Resource Council (UKCRC).  She explained the group’s mission as follows.

Schwermer explained that while one church may have the funds for bus passes, another would have gift cards for the grocery store, and it was a struggle for one organization to meet all the needs that a family may have. She noted that Key West has a more fully developed network to guide people in times of trouble, with organizations such as the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition and Catholic Charities leading the way.

“Through these agencies, there’s a continuum of care,” she said. “They work well together.”

In this post about the Human Services Advisory Board (HSAB), I mentioned my concern that many HSAB agencies are run by boards exclusively from one geographical area.  That area is primarily, but not always, Key West.  On paper, many of these agencies serve the entire Keys.  But with zero representation from the Upper Keys, for example, how effectively can they serve the area? 

The article partially addressed some of those concerns, at least when it comes to the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition (FKOC).

Stephanie Kaple is the chief operating officer of the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition and currently serves as the Community Resource Council’s secretary. The coalition itself recognized a growing need in the Upper Keys and established an office in Tavernier last fall.

The Upper Keys is now served by FKOC and benefits from the expertise of one of its staff.

What’s striking is how little it can take to get somebody back on their feet sometimes.  Here, co-chair, Kerby Avedovech describes a thank you not that UKCRC received.

It was from a woman in the area who wanted to thank the group for helping her make a deposit to set up electricity in her apartment. She had been out of work due to an injury and had been living in her car. She said that she had been afraid that she was going to die in her car.

“This was $200, and it helped her move forward with her life,” said Avedovech to the gathering of about 14 members. “It reminds me of why we do what we’re doing.”

Two hundred dollars.  That’s what it took to help this woman who was living out of her car.

I can’t help but think of the impact of the sewer project.  As I’ve said many, many times Key Largo will receive $125 million less in funding from Monroe County.  The Key Largo project serves about the same number of EDU’s (equivalent to a single-family home) as the projects in the other unincorporated areas combined.

The Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District (District) was able to mitigate that enormous funding disparity by watching costs, securing federal funding, and reaching a mutually beneficial interlocal agreement with Islamorada.  But $125 million is a huge gap.  Key Largo citizens will still have to contribute $26 million more than their neighbors in other unincorporated areas.  It’s huge money for such a small community.  Overall, it works out to be almost $2,000 per EDU.

The county has steadfastly refused to address, or even acknowledge, this problem.  In fact, wastewater funding just happens to be one part of a pattern.  That pattern repeats itself in animal control and the infrastructure sales tax in general.  County commissioner, Heather Carruthers, tried to extend this pattern into fire and emergency services as well.  (The impact on Upper Keys areas, in particular, is discussed here, here and here.  Interestingly, Carruthers’s proposal would also have had a profound negative impact on her own district, Key West.  Carruthers herself would have made out just fine.)

The wastewater funding disparity manifests itself in various ways:

  • Higher sewer bills.  About $8/EDU per month goes toward paying down excessive borrowing resulting from the lack of funding.  That’s $96 per year.
  • Higher assessments.  The difference ranges from about $40 to $170 per year.

I have every reason to believe the same funding disparities exist when it comes to human services as well.  I applaud what UKCRC is doing.  It will allow scarce resources to be used more efficiently.  I am happy to see the FKOC playing a role as well.

Unfortunately, they are definitely working against a stiff political headwind.  Wouldn’t it be something if the county could control spending and distribute resources in a fair, reasonable way?  I bet that alone would make a big difference.  It’s all interrelated.

By the way, here’s a link to the UKCRC Facebook page.  Sounds to me like they’re working smart.  I love that.

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