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Struggles and Hardships Facing Key West, Florida

Location: Washington, DC

STRUGGLES AND HARDSHIPS FACING KEY WEST, FLORIDA -- (House of Representatives - July 29, 2009)


Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Speaker, yesterday, the host of ``The Today Show'' profiled Key West, a city in my congressional district. It is a city of natural beauty, coupled with a history that is quite unique. And while viewers were able to see the TV host ride rickshaws and tour many sites, such as Ernest Hemingway's home, and I am glad they featured my good friend from Key West, Tom Oosterhoudt, there is another side of Key West off of Duval Street that warrants attention.

While Key West is a great place to get a slice of key lime pie, it is also a city with high unemployment, high insurance rates, and one of the largest homeless populations for its size. According to recent numbers, the Florida Keys has over 1,000 individuals who are homeless. The reality is that off of Duval Street, there are struggling individuals and struggling families.

Thankfully, there are several noteworthy organizations which serve the Keys community with a selfless dedication to those at-risk individuals. One example is Samuel's House. This is a beacon of hope for those who need help.

Founded in 1985, Samuel's House provides a nurturing environment for homeless women and women with children. It also affords them resources that are beneficial to their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.

I had the privilege to meet with several staffers from Samuel's House this week here in D.C., and I heard the firsthand account from a mother whose daughter was saved due to the assistance and care provided to her by Samuel's House.

Samuel's House also runs Kathy's Hope, another Key West facility, which provides permanent housing for women who are chronically homeless and in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. It is a safe haven where women can go through recovery while also remaining self-sufficient and pursuing their life goals to better themselves.

Key West is also blessed to have the Southernmost Homeless Assistance League, SHAL. Under the direction of Reverend Steven Braddock, SHAL is a community coalition dedicated to the special needs of people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

SHAL provides grants to shelters and organizations like Samuel's House so that they can continue their good work for all of us in the community. SHAL also provides housing assistance, medical assistance, substance abuse programs, and job training resources to at-risk individuals and their families.

I am grateful for the dedication and caring exhibited by their staff, and they deserve our recognition.

Another problem unique to the Florida Keys is one of housing. We have a problem with nonconforming downstairs enclosures. Through years of mismanagement and lax oversight by Monroe County and FEMA, many Keys homeowners built what they considered legal downstairs enclosures.

Residents with nonconforming disclosures are denied the ability to acquire flood insurance. In an area with a long history of hurricanes and other severe weather events, this is intolerable. Florida Keys homeowners are required to bear the price of mistakes made by the county and FEMA for structures that were issued permits and were legally constructed.

This is a community which cannot afford the expense of renovating existing structures while they struggle to make ends meet week in and week out. While homeowners continue to struggle with onerous regulations, the issue of water quality is also a major concern for Key West and the entire Keys. The Florida Keys serve as the entry point to Everglades National Park. It's surrounded by the National Marine Sanctuary as well as one of the largest and most vibrant coral reef systems in the world. This is an area of national treasure; and as such, ensuring the cleanliness of the waters surrounding these important ecosystems should be a national concern. Since being elected to represent the Florida Keys in 2002, I have fought hard to bring Federal funding from Washington to the Florida Keys for its wastewater project. To date, the area has received more than $35 million in congressionally appropriated dollars. I am pleased to note that construction has already started throughout the Florida Keys. And yes, while more Federal funding is needed, I am thankful for the commitment made by Florida Keys residents and the elected officials to utilize existing Federal funds in the near term. The Florida Keys is an area of great beauty, but we must be aware that even in paradise, people go through struggles and through hard times. These hardships take many faces: an individual on the brink of homelessness, a homeowner who is unable to obtain flood insurance due to a downstairs enclosure, or a community worrying about the cleanliness of their water supply. These are some of the daily trials and tribulations that Keys residents sometimes face off of Duval Street.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the time.


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