Fort Myers set to move homeless out of Lions Park into temporary housing

Reporter: Breana Ross Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
Homeless encampment at Lions Park in Fort Myers. Credit: WINK News.

Fort Myers plans to ensure those experiencing homelessness, who are staying at Lions Park in the city, will vacate the park by Friday and take advantage of hotel housing as part of the city’s response to the homeless population.

We witnessed outreach teams go to people living at the park Thursday by helping them pack up belongings and head to hotels for temporary housing. We saw some of them head to the Holiday Inn across the street from the park.

We also saw several advocates — human and veteran services and Housing, Outreach, and Treatment Teams (H.O.T.) members — speaking with some of the people living at the park.

There were still many tents left at the park Thursday, but by late in the day Friday, the city says everyone must be gone, or they will face consequences.

Dale White has been sleeping in his car at the park for a few days. He worries for the people who sleep at the park in tents…

“Where are these people going to go?” White said.

Mayor Kevin Anderson says there is an effort to make sure everyone has a place to go.

“The city council voted to spend $22,000 on hotel rooms for those who can’t immediately get into transitional housing,” Anderson said. “They will at least have a place to stay until they do.”

Housing first advocate Deborah Hopkins says she’s glad people who called the park home have somewhere else to go for now. She just hopes it lasts.

“We consider it a Band-Aid solution unless all of our homeless families are actually put into permanent housing situations where they can get the social services that they need for drug addiction for mental health issues,” Hopkins said.

Another concern for advocates is the fact moving homeless encampments goes against CDC recommendations and Lee County’s own continuum of care, which says clearing encampments could cause people to disperse and increase the risk for spreading disease.

“We are doing everything we can to find an alternative to the park as opposed to just dispersing them from the park,” Anderson said. “We have got to reclaim the park. It’s not fair to the taxpayers.”

Advocates say they will be at Lions Park Friday to document any civil or human rights violations as police move people out of the park.

Mayor Anderson’s teams will be at the park Friday trying to get folks who are still there into The Salvation Army’s triage center, hotels or transitional housing.

Those who do not leave the park by 10:30 p.m. Friday will receive trespass notices, citations, and eventually, police will arrest them if they do not comply.

Advocates hope the effort leads to long-term help and housing.

“All they need is the help that they deserve in order to be integrated into our community,” Hopkins said.

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