Fort Myers discusses options to support homeless population

Reporter: Breana Ross Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
Credit: WINK News.

A mother of two is looking for another place to put a roof over her family’s head. She says, in a matter of hours, she will be homeless again.

Homelessness in the downtown Fort Myers area came to a head in October when the City began the closure at Centennial Park for the purposes of renovation; therefore, eliminating a space many people experiencing homelessness were utilizing — the park pavilion. Dozens of individuals ended up being kicked out, but not without support from activists, the City and other people in the community.

There is a renewed push to help people experiencing homelessness get permanent help.

Fort Myers City Council discussed Monday asking FEMA for help to supply one or two-bedroom trailers where those in need of a home can sleep.

That was added to the agenda after Councilman Johnny Streets sent a letter to the city manager, calling for more shelter for the growing homeless population he says will only continue to grow as the pandemic continues.

You may not be able to see the homeless population congregated at centennial park anymore, but it doesn’t mean the struggle to find suitable housing that many face is over.

We first spoke to a mother at the hotel she’s staying at with her 2-year-old and 7-month-old. She asked us not to use her name and at the time, and she asked we conceal her identity.

“I have two little kids with me,” the mother said. “I am homeless with them.”

But then she got the courage to tell City Council her story.

“St. Vincent de Paul gave me five days at the travel lodge for us to stay there,” she said. “Tomorrow is my last day. I get checked out at 12 o’clock.”

At noon, she and her children will have nowhere to go. She says, when she asked for help, she was told, ‘That I need to put my kids in foster care, and I was like ‘Why do I need to put my kids in foster care? Because I lost my job due to the COVID-19? I shouldn’t put my kids in no foster care.”

The City says it’s working on a solution to help house people with nowhere to go by asking FEMA and other organizations to step in to help provide trailers where the homeless can sleep, something that some say is a start, but that more permanent housing programs should be developed.

“I would certainly like to see them build enough transitional, permanent and supportive housing to help anybody that is in housing crisis right now,” said Kat Duesterhaus, a housing first advocate.

Councilman Streets said he thinks FEMA should be able to intervene because of COVID-19, and the crisis it’s created with the economy and job loss.

The city manager says he’ll work with the county and FEMA to look into supplying trailers where the homeless can stay. The city manager also said he would be in touch with the mom of two to provide her the help she needs.

“I want people to have places, permanent places,” said veteran Frank Shaffer, who is homeless.

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