The homeless who occupied Centennial Park now spread out across Fort Myers

Reporter: Andryanna Sheppard Writer: Drew Hill
Published: Updated:
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Fences have gone up around Centennial Park, causing the homeless who used to sleep under the pavilion to find other places to go.

They may now be scattered across Fort Myers but advocates say that hasn’t stopped them from trying to find places for these people to live permanently.

City Gate Ministries in downtown Fort Myers is the new place for people in need to line up for food, clothes, shoes, and anything else they may need to survive. It used to be Centennial Park.

Those who are in need say the lines grow longer by the week.

“We need food, we need things. We need people who care about us,” said Willie Joe Shotmiller, one of the many homeless people in Fort Myers.

Many who got in line tried to get as close to the front as possible but Shotmiller headed straight to the back.

Since the fence has gone up, advocates say that getting people into permanent housing is their number one priority. Not only do they want to spread awareness about the issue, but they also hope to get homeless people connected to services and benefits.

“We’re out here with tablets now helping people get signed up for the benefits that they need,” said Ken Clairmont, one of the advocates helping out.

Without affordable or low-income housing, Clairmont doesn’t see these lines getting any shorter anytime soon. “There are thousands of people in need in this area right now and we’re looking to figure out how to best get them served, particularly facing the eviction moratorium. We’ve had more people coming down the pipe every single day.”

Shotmiller says it’s now or never. “We need it now, there’s no excuse,” he said.

The advocates working to find permanent housing for the homeless say they plan to have a larger presence at Fort Myers City Council meetings. They also hope to bring more affordable housing to Southwest Florida.

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