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Some living in Centennial park say county's sheltering option is not ideal

Posted at 9:48 PM, Oct 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-06 22:37:58-04

FORT MYERS, Fla — Is there a place for the folks at Centennial Park to go?

That's the question some are asking as the park closes for construction, leaving people who call it home in limbo.

Tuesday, the park and the people who call it home were back up for discussion with local leaders.

This time via the Lee County Commission.

The county says the Salvation Army was able to free up some beds at its Bob Janes Triage Center and say that they offered those beds to the people currently living in the park.

"We encountered 25 individuals and offered all of them sheltering at Bob Janes, and two of those individuals took up the county on that offer," Lee County Assistant Manager Marc Mora says.

So why would 23 people turn down a safe place to sleep?

Well, they say its because programs at Bob Janes Triage Center have rules.

The county claims people don't feel the rules at the shelter work for them.

"We have no alcohol or drugs on the premises. No smoking on the premises," Heather Cross with the Salvation Army Emergency Transitional Shelter said.

"We do have curfew for all the individuals that come here."

She also says one of the biggest issues that individuals have is that they cannot come and go as they please.

Ramona Miller, with A Voice in the Wilderness Empowerment Center, says that for some of these folks having to follow certain rules after being on the streets for some time isn't an easy transition.

"It's going to stir up a lot of emotional and behavioral issues that they may not have exhibited out here," Miller said.

Tuesday afternoon, she was able to get more than 12 people who either turned down the other option or missed their chance to connect with them into a hotel.

Some of the people confirmed to FOX 4 the rules do bother them.

But others say they've tried to get into that shelter before and couldn't, so they didn't bother trying again.

Phillip, who struggles with homelessness, says he'd like to see the county make some changes.

"Focus on what needs to be focused on. You know homelessness," Phillip says.

"You all are doing a good job of feeding us but putting a roof over our head is far out the question."

Alejandro, who also struggles with homelessness, also expressed his feelings towards the situation.

"I feel like there should at least be some steps that should be made towards affordable housing toward low income and mid-income people," Alejandro says.

As of late Tuesday night, there are still people living out at the park.

The city said they're working with county partners to place them somewhere safe but did not answer FOX 4's question about if people would be physically removed from the park at some point.