Despite crime being down in the city of Fort Myers—Fort Myers Police are seeing a trend at a local hotel on U.S. 41.
Even though the snowbirds are out of town right now, FMPD said there is actually one area of town that's remaining busy...for them.
Police told Fox 4 Investigates the Travelodge located on South Cleveland Avenue has more 911 calls than any other hotel in the area.
Since May, police have responded to this hotel for an armed robbery, a shooting, a resident of the hotel who was accused of animal abuse across the street, and many other calls for service. This prompted FOX 4 to look deeper into the activity at the hotel.
When you combine low hotel rates with the affordable housing crisis that's squeezing people across the area, you get a larger number of people with nowhere else to turn. That included an 18-year-old who lived at the hotel with her mother when they couldn't afford rent.
"I felt like the first week I was there, it [the hotel] didn't have much of an issue. But then a month or two later, everything started to go downhill," the teenager said.
This 18-year-old did not want to risk her safety by going on camera, so we're going to refer to her as Jane. A homeless advocate who partners with Fort Myers Police introduced us to Jane as a former customer of the hotel.
"There are a lot of negative things that go on over there... Violence, people have guns, not respecting the hotel policies, not caring and a lot of times it ends with cops," Jane said.
Some of the things Jane claims to have seen showed up in 5 years of calls for service records Fox 4 Investigates obtained via an open records request from FMPD.
"When you have these lower rates, you may bring in some people that may engage in some illegal activities and they may need a place to stay," said Lieutenant Robert Kerbs, a Watch Commander who has been with the force for 14 years.
In the records FMPD supplied, the calls for service at the Travelodge during the snowbird off-season, from May to July, have increased. The calls for trespassing alone nearly doubled.
Ramona Miller, founder of A Voice in the Wilderness Empowerment Center, said that people without homes might not necessarily fit the stereotype of a homeless person.
"The homeless are not just the people in the parks. The homeless are those people who are experiencing evictions. They are those who have been couch surfing," Miller explained.
Miller explained the motivation some could have to live out of a hotel.
"And I'm sure some of the viewers may say, if they are willing to get money to get a room, why can't they just get off the streets? But that is not how it works. What happens if you don't have just one or two people going in a room? You have four, five, or six people chipping in. So what we are seeing is that people are trying to survive. And a lot of them have addiction problems - and that survival and addiction creates chaos."
FOX 4 reached out to the hotel management at the Travelodge multiple times but they refused to comment.
FMPD said they are working with them to improve the safety in the area.
"They installed push bar alarms so the back doors can’t be propped open anymore. They have increased lighting in the parking lot to help combat illegal drug sales and hand-to-hand transactions," Lt. Kerbs said. "They [received] 32 high-definition cameras. They just hired private security that started today. They are doing everything they can to help us combat the crime down there and make it a safer location. “
Lt. Kerbs also mentioned that the hotel is trying to remove itself from sites that advertise the super low rates.
We reached out to Mayor Anderson and the councilman for the area, Fred Busron, regarding what can be done to improve this situation and the area along U.S. 41.
When they get back to us with a response, we'll update you.
As for anyone who finds themselves homeless due to the affordable housing crisis or other reasons, you can reach out to Ramona Miller at the Voice in the Wilderness Empowerment center on MLK and Veronica Shoemaker Boulevards.