Lee County homelessness program’s end goal to find families permanent housing

Reporter: Anika Henanger Writer: Jack Lowenstein
A tent belonging to a homeless individual or individuals is seen at Lions Park in Fort Myers. Credit: WINK News.

A program was approved in Lee County to help families waiting on permanent housing so they can get off the streets.

Advocates for those experiencing homelessness and Lee County Board of County Commissioners hope to reduce the number of moms, dads and kids sleeping in tents in local parks.

The goal is for families on the county’s rapid rehousing list to have a bed in a hotel to sleep in as soon as May 15 and have a permanent place to live by May 30.

Carlton Martinez lived in a car, on a couch and outside when he lost his home, but he didn’t lose the people who made it home.

“Family is all we got,” Martinez said.

Family is how he got back into a house, but Martinez knows many families need a boost.

“Getting people off the street who want to be off the street,” Martinez said.

Many families facing homelessness applied for help from Lee County. Commissioner Brian Hamman says the county is working to find families experiencing homelessness permanent housing.

“We’ve had 69 households that include 147 children raise their hand and say, ‘Hey, I need some help getting back on my feet right now,’” Hamman said.

Until they can get off a waiting list and into a permanent home, those families usually wait 30 days — in a car, on a couch or outside.

But not anymore.

“Instead of having them stay out there, we thought it would be best to get them into a hotel, get them hooked up with a case manager, so we can start working them back toward a more sustainable housing situation,” Hamman said.

Nearly $2 million allocated by Lee County will get those families most in need into a hotel and then into permanent housing.

It’s not a vacation. It’s a place to stay with their family and get counseling, a case manager, food, clothing and transition. The goal: Someday, they might get a car, a couch and get to be home together inside.

“It’s helping people to get to where they need to be at,” Martinez said.

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