Fox 4’s “A Minute with the Mayor” tracks Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson’s progress during his first 100 days in office. This week he talked to Rachel Loyd about the Centennial Park project and his efforts to address homelessness in the city.
Rachel: This week we’re talking about homelessness. We know that homelessness has been an issues in the city of Fort Myers, and a lot of cities for a long time. But, it’s been brought to the forefront recently. Why do you think it’s brought to the forefront now?
Mayor Anderson: I think COVID - two factors. One of them being COVID, that really brought it to the forefront. And, then of course our renovation of Centennial Park that added to it as well.
Rachel: Obviously those are two really big things. The pandemic has affected a lot of people, and the Centennial project, that is a really big project - I want to talk to you about that as well. But, the COVID pandemic, and the project, that’s still not an excuse, right? You can’t just put that off on those two things. So, what is the city doing to still address the homeless issue?
Mayor Anderson: And I wasn’t meaning to imply that COVID or Centennial Park was a cause of the homeless. This has been an ongoing problem as you said. You know, we’re working with Lee County. What I’m doing myself - as you know - I’m putting together a homeless task force, which I hope to by mid next week to announce who’s on that task force.
Rachel: The park. How’s the process coming along with Centennial Park?
Mayor Anderson: It’s a slow process. It’s been delayed a little bit, because as you know, we were originally spending $550,000 on equipment. Now we’ve upped it to $900,000. So, we’ve got to do a little bit more redesigning. We want to make sure we make it right. We’d rather take our time and get it right, than to have to go back and try to redo it.
Rachel: And I’ve also seen some criticism, too - this is a slow process, right? It’s taking a while to come together. But, it seemed like a sort of fast process to get the homeless community out of that park. What’s your response to that?
Mayor Anderson: You know, there are people who think the park belongs to the homeless. That it’s their home. And that’s just not it. That park belongs to the entire public. We as government have an obligation to the entire citizens, all the citizens of the City of Fort Myers to make sure we safeguard our assets. By letting the homeless just overtake that park, we’re not doing a good job of protecting those assets.
Rachel: The city has voted to spend about $1 million do rebuild Centennial Park. I know that there’s about $100,000 going towards rebuilding the bathrooms there, or restoring the bathrooms there, $900,000 that are going towards playground equipment. How much money is the city planning to use or to spend on addressing the homelessness issue.
Mayor Anderson: That all depends on what we get from the county. You know, we don’t have specific funds for homeless. I’m open to listening to solutions. I have met with several people since my - since I’ve taken office to discuss the homeless issue. I listen to everybody. Some people have good thoughts on it. Others are misguided in their thoughts. They’re misguided in what they think the role of the government is. It’s a community problem, and it’s a community effort.
Rachel: I also understand that there are some groups that come to the council meetings to talk about the homeless issue. I know that you’ve also stressed being very transparent when it comes to your role as mayor. What are some things that they should know? For those folks coming in and sitting in on meetings saying that we will come to every meeting until we see change. What are some things that they should know?
Mayor Anderson: I think what they should know is I’ve been very clear. I wrote a guest opinion that was published in the paper on the homeless issue. I made it clear that this is not the responsibility of local government to address this problem. We play a part in it. This is a societal issue. So, there’s a lot of factors that should play into this - churches, citizens in general, philanthropic groups, government, non-profits. We all need to be working together.
I welcome these advocates. They have every right to come to meetings. They have every right to their public input. But, if you notice, if you watch - what they’re telling us is there’s a homeless problem - which we all know that. Very few if any of them are coming to the council meeting with viable, actionable, sustainable solutions to the homeless problem.