FORT MYERS, FLA — Milton Thomas says he just got some of the worst news of his life.
"My mom died. She died a month ago and I didn't know until a week ago," he said.
He says the news took some time to reach his new home, a tent in Lions Park.
"Being homeless, I ain't got no communication. They stole my phone about three times," he said.
Thomas is one of about 15 people calling the park home.
He says he's been really struggling with housing over the last year. This second time trying to camp out at the park.
"I slept in the open until a couple of days ago I decided man, I want to take a chance and slide in that tent," he said.
The mayor of Fort Myers, Kevin Anderson, told FOX 4 earlier this week, that these folks can stay at the park, at least for now.
"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 to help address the issue a bit better, he's also released the names of his newly formed "Homeless Task Force," among other task forces:
Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness
Leader: Janet Bartos, Lee County Homeless Coalition Executive Director
City Council liaison: Johnny Streets, Ward 2 Councilmember
Community members: Nicole Dillion, Jacques Thomas, and Bo Whitesman
Mayor’s Task Force on Housing
Leader: Justin Thibaut, COO, LSI Companies, Inc.
City Council liaison: Teresa Watkins Brown, Ward 1 Councilmember
Community members: Dr. Eric Appelgren, Gary Griffin, LaKasha Levatt, Larry Schoof, Tyler Sharpe, P.E., Jason Teeters
Mayor’s Task Force on Unity
Leader: Dr. Phil Phillips, Senior Pastor, Agape Christian Fellowship
City Council liaison: Darla Bonk, Ward 6 Councilmember
Community members: Marc Collins, Stacy Crespo, Dwayne Jackson, and Chantel Rhodes
The homeless task force leader, Janet Bartos, is also the leader of the lee county homeless coalition.
Bartos released the following statement to FOX 4:
I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Task Force and looking forward to working with the other community leaders to increase the housing solutions for those currently experiencing homelessness. The Task Force members have a shared vision, and we will be looking for creative solutions. I also look forward to sharing information regarding the programs our CoC stakeholders are currently providing. We currently have 6 agencies providing Rapid Rehousing Programs. In the spring, Community Assistance and Supportive Living (CASL) will be opening a 95-bed program that will provide permanent supportive housing for individuals experiencing homelessness that have behavioral health challenges.
In anticipation of the cold weather approaching this week, HOT teams, Centerstone, Human & Veterans Services, and Lee County Homeless Coalition went out to Lion’s Park 7:30 a.m. on Monday morning. We engaged with 21 individuals and offered shelter at the Bob Janes Triage Center. 7 individuals accepted.
We also deployed our Cold Weather Outreach on Tuesday and Wednesday evening. Cold Weather Outreach is based on a drop in temperature (typically 40 degrees or lower). We go out to 8 different locations in Lee County, one of them being Lions Park. We offer shelter and transportation to the shelter. Also, bring hot coffee, blankets, and winter clothes.
During these 3 outreach events this week a total of 25 individuals accepted shelter.
FOX 4 asked Thomas what he thought would be the best way to fix things, and he wasn't quite sure.
"I don't have the answer because if I did have the answer I would get myself out of it," he said.
But did he say he hopes the stigma surrounding it ends.
"They might think everybody who is homeless is on drugs, everybody who is homeless is worthless, everybody who is homeless don't wanna work," he said, "There are people who are homeless because of different reasons."