FKOC And Peacock Are Teaming Up


By Mark Howell


A corner has been turned.



The Florida Keys Outreach Coalition (FKOC) is assuming sponsorship of the Peacock Supportive Living Program for the seriously mentally ill in Key West.



This momentous change takes effect April 1, subject to the Land Redevelopment Authority’s approval of the transfer of leases on the organizations’ combined buildings, anticipated to be no problem.



Tuesday morning, at FKOC headquarters on Northside Drive, Konk Life met with Stephanie Kaple, supportive services director at FKOC (sitting in for Rev. Stephen Braddock who for 15 years has been president and CEO of the coalition), and Sherry Read, president of the volunteer board of Heron Peacock on which she has sat, on and off, for 15 years.



“I’m excited,” said Kaple. “Sherry and her late husband Nelson built Peacock with their heart and soul and we want to keep it in good hands.”



Sherry explained that Rev. Braddock’s incomparable fundraising skills extend to private sources, “So I’m thrilled about this whole thing.”



The Heron part of Heron Peacock will continue independently to serve the mentally ill in Marathon, likely under the aegis of the Guidance Clinic of the Middle Keys.



Kaple already serves as supervisor at Peacock’s transitional shelters for men, women and families at Truesdale Court in Poinciana Plaza on Duck Avenue, while at the same time working at FKOC’s emergency men’s center for homeless recovery named after William M. Neece on Patterson Avenue.



“So this all makes sense,” she said. “I have no anxieties.”



Peacock has two full-time staff plus a maintenance person at Spalding in Poinciana, where it provides seven four-bedroom apartments for 28 people. Residents have their own private bedrooms and the kitchens, living rooms and bathrooms are shared within each of the four-person apartments.



The residents are those with mental illness who cannot find housing. Many are unable to find employment due to their illness. Some may also have a history of substance abuse or physical disabilities or other disabling conditions. Most live on a limited income from Social Security or veterans’ benefits.



“For the past five years,” confided Sherry Read, “I have fretted over the sustainability of Peacock financially. It got to be a really big struggle five or six years ago. The way the Feds focused homeless services specifically on women and children, we were no longer competitive for grants — we couldn’t even apply.



“Now I feel so much better after not sleeping for all these years.



Quipped Stephanie Kaple good-naturedly, “The only sleep I lose is over my dogs.”



Kaple studied psychology as an undergraduate and has a master’s degree in community counselor education. She started at FKOC as a case manager and in 2013 became supportive services director. She has become renowned locally for activities such as her culinary competitions on a minimal budget.



It was Sherry Read who first approached Steve Braddock with the proposal for an alliance between their two organizations.



“He got it right away,” she said. “He how well this would work. The Outreach Coalition’s clients and our clients are the same. Both recognize that they have a mental illness and both pledge they will stay clean and sober.”



More and more of the mentally ill today are becoming homeless but “the problem,” says Kaple, “is that we can’t connect the mentally ill to the resources for the homeless. That’s why this union makes such good sense.”



Meanwhile, points out Read, “There is no designated funding for mental health in Florida. This sate is 50th or 49th state is 49th or 50th in terms of such funding. We’re right down there with Texas.”



There are plenty of programs for studying mental health but less and less money to help cope with it, she added. “Organizations are losing money that we never even had,” says Read.



Meanwhile, the community can expect to notice changes following this alliance. The coalition will be funding the tenting of two buildings at Poinciana over two nights to improve their condition. “I was never able to do this. I was always chasing funds for day-to-day operations.”



Not that the residences haven’t blended beautifully into the neighborhood and have taken care of themselves through the residents’ own sense of responsibility and pride.



“These are not homeless shelters, insisted Kaple. “Our clients keep up their premises and the yards.”



And the staff remains the same at both organizations. Medication management is established by regulation “so the safeguards are the same.”



Adding to Peacock’s two transitional apartments for intact families are now two fully accessible handicap units.



There has never been a more appropriate or opportune time to combine agency resources at a period in our history and in our society when the homeless population is becoming more and more disabled. And more and more of the mentally ill and the mentally ill are becoming homeless.

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