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Fencing continues at Centennial Park amid homeless crisis

Posted at 12:00 AM, Oct 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-09 00:03:23-04

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The homeless crisis at Centennial Park continues as people who call it their home refuse to leave, saying they have nowhere else to go.

The City of Fort Myers closed Centennial Park to the public on Monday with a $3 million renovation project set to begin.

On Thursday, crews continued to set up the park's construction fence, although the gates remained open.

“We’re just trying to educate and feel out the situation at this point,” said Kristin Capuzzi, Public Information Officer with The Fort Myers Police Department.

As of right now, FMPD says they are hoping for a peaceful resolution, waiting for people to leave on their own.

They didn't say when or if people would be removed.

“There’s going to be posted signs, there are regulations that have to be followed in a construction zone, at that point we’ll go from there,” said Capuzzi.

On Thursday, FMPD and other county employees were at the park telling people what resources are available for them.

“Why weren’t folks here to help these people on Monday or Sunday, Sunday they told them they had to be out by Monday, shouldn’t there have been social workers here doing that then,” said Kat Duesterhaus, a community activist.

But according to Lee County, there have been scheduled homeless outreach activities in Centennial Park before its closure.

“We haven’t really been able to figure that out, they keep saying those resources are available, but we’ve been here witnessing what’s been happening, we’ve been recording it, we want them to be here, we want them to be doing something, and we’re just not seeing it," said Ken Clairmont, a community activist.

While space in shelters has been offered, but making the transition isn’t easy for everyone.

“I’ve learned a lot today, people just get used to that lifestyle, and they just don’t want to go back to the regimented rules that a lot of us are used to,” said Capuzzi. "That's basically why a lot of people are refusing to take the services we are trying to provide."

One of the people to accept help was Richard, who suffers from several health conditions.

On Thursday, he was transported to a local shelter, but things didn't go as planned.

“They don’t take people with walkers or canes because anything can be in the way of how they have their dormitories; it’s silly all you do it fold it and put it under the bed,” said Richard.

Richard says he was turned away, ending back at Centennial Park.

A nonprofit ultimately stepped in to put Richard in a motel for the night.

Now advocates are pleading for city and county officials to develop a clear plan to combat homelessness.

“These are people’s lives, we’re facing the eviction moratorium, there are so many people here that are one paycheck from this situation,” said Clairmont. “I was in this situation after Hurricane Irma, and I’m just not willing to accept it for people that live in our community.”

We did reach out to the city to find out if and when people at the park will be removed. We are waiting to hear back from city officials.