FORT MYERS, Fla – Time is already ticking for those struggling with homelessness to vacate Lions Park in Fort Myers by 10:30 p.m. Friday morning, local homelessness advocates received frantic calls from people they work with who said they were being forced out of the library downtown.
Advocates with Housing First Lee County filmed video of Fort Myers Police Department officers vacating those people around 3:00 a.m. They said they rushed over as soon as some of the homeless people they work with called.
Unlike the Lions Park evictions, the organization said it was caught off guard by this. With Lions Park, FMPD plans to enforce an ordinance in regard to the park hours of operations starting Friday. It’s why advocates, police and elected officials have been out there working to get those on a waiting list into hotel rooms or a shelter.
However, advocates said they had no heads up about the 3:00 a.m. library eviction and that when they called The Salvation Army Triage shelter at 4:00 a.m. it was at capacity. They say many are now living in hiding and are afraid.
“One of the officers had assured another advocate that it wouldn’t be happening last night or early this morning, depending on how you look at it. So it came as a shock to us and to the homeless individuals who are living in these places. That help has not reached them yet, they have not been offered a hotel. And I had called at 4:00 a.m. Triage, and they said they were full. So really there’s no other place people can go if help hasn’t made it to them yet, the shelters are full. It’s a conundrum here but the people who are suffering are people in crisis,” said Kat Duesterhaus with Housing First Lee County.
FMPD said it's looking into what took place at the library. Fox 4 spoke with Mayor Kevin Anderson who arrived at Lions Park around 8:00 a.m. Friday. He was unaware police would be moving people at 3:00 a.m. there, but said there has been ample notice about the ordinances in general.
"No, I was unaware of that. There's been a lot of effort made to make sure that the homeless are aware of what the laws were and that they would be enforced. There was a great effort to house people and give them all the information that they possibly could to make sure they had the information needed to get help,” said Mayor Anderson.
Still, advocates argue that with the Triage shelter at capacity and people still having to go through the city's long wait list process for a hotel, people are going to be left with no options by Friday night.
Mayor Anderson pointed to the hundreds-of-thousands of dollars in transitional housing funds, separate from the hotels, as other efforts the city has made to help people. But again, those advocates say that homeless people are up against the clock before Friday night.