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FMPD says Lions Park tents can stay...for now

Posted at 10:52 PM, Feb 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-08 22:52:27-05

FORT MYERS, FLA — According to Fort Myers city code sections 58-153, you can't pitch a tent overnight in a public park.

But some people struggling with homelessness tell us, tents were some of the best ways for them to stay warm in Lions Park after recent cold weather.

"This is what we have to do for now," said Dawn Cullen.

The city's mayor, Kevin Anderson, has told FOX 4 that police have been looking the other way to be kind.

"The police have been tolerant with them at lion's park because if you chase them away from there there's no place left for them to go," he said.

But over the weekend it appeared that kindness ran out after an officer asked for tents to come down.

And after hours of confusion following that order, Fort Myers Police spokesperson Kristin Capuzzi says the tents were allowed to remain.

"You know people who are there doing the right thing and just trying to seek shelter, we're okay with. We're not trying to push anybody out of the park," she said.

Capuzzi says after talking things out, the department decided to let folks stay, for now, and monitor things on a case-by-case basis.

"This can't happen forever, it's a slow process to try and get some of these people home," she said.

She says the main reason they're concerned about the tents, is because they've seen a rise in drug use among some of the folks out there and complaints from neighbors.

"There are just certain things we just can't let go of," she said.

Local advocate, Ramona Miller says there are some in the park, that are choosing to use. But she says those folks need to be offered rehab services.

"Not everyone out here is on drugs. There are people out here that are actually positioned in certain places around this park and outside the park to avoid the drug groups," she said.

She adds that solving the problem of homelessness in the park, and the city, won't be easy, but it starts with a conversation.

"So it starts with relationship and communication. And once those two things occur then we will know what it is, each individual needs, because it's not one size, fits all," she said.