KEY WEST -- Even the welcoming, tropical tourist town of Key West -- with slogans ``Come as you are' and ``One Human Family' -- has a limit when it comes to tolerating free spirits.
In the past two months, Key West police have arrested more than 70 vagrants for ``quality of life' offenses: aggressive panhandling, trespassing, fighting, public intoxication, defecating on public property, using residents' outdoor showers and electricity.
And the crackdown -- spurred by complaints from residents, business owners and visitors -- is about to get a financial boost from the federal government: $813,000 in stimulus funds.
The money will pay for four new police officers for three years, assigned primarily to quality-of-life issues. The police department is in the process of hiring the officers, which will patrol public beaches, parks and other homeless hangouts.
Key West Police Chief Donnie Lee, a native of the island, said the city doesn't want a repeat of 2003, when the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty named Key West one of the country's ``meanest' cities for the homeless.
Lee said he'd rather provide the downtrodden with help than a ride to the county jail -- but compassion can go only so far. Though local advocacy groups say many homeless suffer from mental illness or addiction, Lee said the island's police have no choice but to deal with those who break the law.
Theo Glorie, owner of Coffee Plantation, said he initially tolerated a homeless man sleeping in an opening under the porch of his downtown Key West coffee shop. That changed when he discovered the man had tapped into his business' electrical outlet.
``He used an extension cord to hook up a window air-conditioning unit,' Glorie said. ``I told him, `You're evicted. This is too much.' '