LEE COUNTY — Law enforcement are trying to clear out several homeless encampments in Lee County by the end of this week, but some of the people living there tell us they have nowhere else to go.
The owner of the Hancock Bridge Square shopping center in North Fort Myers is facing code enforcement violations for people living on the property. Deputies came out early Thursday morning and informed all the homeless people there, they needed to be out by 5:00 that night.
But we saw that many were still there even after that deadline.
Employees with the behavioral health non-profit Centerstone responded to the scene when they learned the people wouldn’t have much time to find a new home.
"That’s pretty short notice in 12 hours to say hey, you’ve got to go. Where are we going to go?” said Lauretta Swank, who has been living behind the shopping center for several months.
Swank said she’s still on the wait list for affordable housing.
"Centerstone was out here, they said we’re at the top of the housing list because they took all my info, but just like the lady has said, it could be next week, or it could be four months. It could be a year from now," said Swank.
The Director of Centerstone's South Florida office said they’re just trying to provide short term solutions for these people.
"Many of my staff will come out here and provide therapy or medication management. Psychiatrists will come out for services like that, but it’s just one step to get them out of this environment," said Director Adina Bridges.
Across the bridge in Fort Myers, people are picking up and moving as well.
"I’m helping people get their tents packed up and trying to get them out of the north side of the park," said Fort Myers Police Officer Philip Youngblood.
The north side of Lions Park is soon going to be under construction. Angela Stephens told us she’s been there for a few months now with her dog.
"They’re going to move us to the other side. I don’t want to be over there, nobody does, because it’s kind of wild over there," said Stephens.
Just after 2:00 Thursday afternoon, the sprinklers in the park came on as people were packing up. Stephens said that had never happened before.
She’s just hoping she can get in permanent housing soon, just like Swank, who said while she waits, she just wants a safe place to sleep.
"I’ve always had a place to live, I’ve always had food and everything, but it just seems like things are going downhill for everybody," said Swank.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office said it did tell people months ago they could stay behind the Hancock Bridge Square shopping center, as long as they didn’t make a mess.
The Department told us the code violations came after some individuals caused problems with drugs.
On Thursday night, Centerstone employees were able to get several people to agree to go to Triage, which is a homeless shelter operated by the Salvation Army.