Why don’t these people just get jobs so they can get off the streets? That’s a typical question people ask when they see the homeless. But the solution to homelessness isn’t that simple. As we first told you in our special series, The Working Homeless, there are people in our community who work in local businesses by day and live on the streets at night.
We asked lawmakers—Democrat and Republican—to watch and weigh in. Both agree something needs to be done to help the homeless, particularly the working homeless.
Rep. Spencer Roach, (R): “The folks who have the best chance of fully reintegrate into society are the working homeless that you showcase. I mean, they’re demonstrating that they have some skills and some ability to get an entry-level job, and they’re showing up to work on time. They’re working hard.”
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, (D): “But the wages are low, combined with the fact that affordable housing is sometimes totally unattainable in Florida. And that’s left them with a very frustrating and desperate situation where many more Floridians simply can’t afford Florida, which is why it’s important for local and state governments to continue to put forward solutions to this.”
Neither State Representative Spencer Roach nor Carlos Guillermo Smith are currently working on legislation to specifically make it easier for the working homeless. There are homeless assistance services offered in Lee County. We’re taking a closer look, to see what works and what needs work.
MORE: Click here for continuing coverage in The Working Homeless series
57-year-old Brent Grayson says his job in the kitchen at The Oasis Restaurant in Fort Myers brings him one step closer to getting his life back on track.
“I feel like I’m getting a second chance now,” says Grayson.
But his job isn’t helping him get a roof over his head. Despite the steady paycheck, he can’t find a place to live.
Celine: “How much do you think you can afford?
Brent: “Me personally, myself, about eight $900.”
But as a non-violent convicted felon, Grayson says he fails the background checks at apartment complexes.
“I’ve called rooming houses. I’ve called hotel rooms like weeklies, monthlies booked. Booked!”
So, it’s back to the streets until his next shift.
“I try to go there where I know I’m safe, and I just lay my head,” says Grayson. “I put cardboard down and I got a blanket, and then I fold everything up in the morning.”
Life as the working homeless is a struggle. Grayson feels it’s dangerous and demoralizing.
“I get frustrated because I look at other people. And you know, they go home to loved ones, family. And then I’m like, I just walked around and I said man, I wish I was in that predicament,” says Grayson.
In early December, when we first met Grayson, Fort Myers Police Officer Ryan Beiner with the Homeless Outreach Team, offered him a potential lifeline.
“With that situation, you’re on right now, it’s kind of the perfect opportunity for the homeless prevention application,” says Beiner.
On December 16th, Beiner signed Grayson up for housing assistance from Lee County Human and Veterans Services. Days pass, then weeks. No word if or when that help is coming.
“Nobody has called me,” says Grayson. “Nobody has even attempted to email me and I checked every day. All-day. The only one that I get is from you, WINK News”
“Have faith, have hope, have trust in the network,” says Roger Mercado, Executive Director of Lee County Human and Veteran Services.
Mercado says the homeless need to be patient since there are more than 500 people on the waitlist for housing.
“On average, we’re looking probably from the time they enter coordinated entry and get into housing, on average, it’s about 70 days,” says Mercado.
Celine: “That’s a long time on the streets.”
Mercado: “It is, it is.”
And the services aren’t first come, first served.”They will assess the situation and look at certain vulnerabilities of that household,” says Mercado.
Grayson hopes his small victories—like finding and keeping a job—doesn’t keep him at the back of the helpline for too long.
“I can’t give up. You know what I’m saying? I can’t give up,” says Grayson. “I can’t do it.”
Mercado says he’s willing to let us follow Grayson through the process of getting housing, so you can see how it works and what needs work. You can follow our coverage—and join in on the conversation— on the WINK News app and on our Facebook page.