County tells homeless to vacate lot near North Fort Myers shopping center

Reporter: Anika Henanger Writer: Drew Hill
Published: Updated:
north fort myers homeless
Credit: WINK News

Some people are being forced out of the place they call home. The homeless living in a camp behind Hancock Bridge Square Shopping Plaza in North Fort Myers have been asked to leave.

This move-out request comes after other well-known homeless camps in Southwest Florida have been cleared out. And, just one week ago, Lee County leaders put a ban on “panhandling,” making it illegal for the homeless to ask for donations in the middle of roads.

Lee County cited safety reasons in both instances.

Most people will do just about anything to protect their homes and their families. That’s true with the group of homeless people in North Fort Myers as well.

“The biggest problem is all of us trying to stay together,” said Gracie Lash, who lives behind the shopping plaza in the camp.

The lot behind a vacant strip mall is not comfortable, convenient, or even legal to live on, but, Lash said, it’s is still a neighborhood.

“There’s Jessica and Joe. There’s Jose’s tent. Rico is the one that just walked past,” she said.

Lee County leaders want these people out, citing safety concerns. This means Gracie, Jessica and Joe have to leave.

Lucy Ramirez offers assistance to those experiencing homelessness. “Here we go. We have to move them again. Now, what do you think happens when that hope gets crushed?”

Some of that hope and help comes from the “HOT” Teams and caring people like Lucy. She donates her time getting to know these people and the problems they face.

“I mostly give them love. I’m going to feed them lunch today. And a little encouragement, little counseling, some recommendations of where they can go, where they won’t be on somebody else’s property,” Ramirez said.

Some of those in the camp have already packed up their tents. But Lash, she’s going to wait on the rest of her family.

“It’s just like real, real hard right now,” Lash said.

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office has said there is currently no deadline for the people to leave. But, those “HOT” Teams are working to get people out.

Resources for those experiencing homelessness

o    The Lee County Department of Human & Veteran Services’ coordinated entry phone line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for those who need sheltering or homeless prevention services. The number is 239-533-7996.

o    The Coordinated Entry System ensures that all people experiencing a housing crisis have access to limited community resources.

o    The goal is to ensure homelessness is rare, brief and one time.

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