No Solution In Sight For The Beach Homeless

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While Lee County Commissioners continue to find ways – and money – to help the homeless in the greater Fort Myers area, the Fort Myers Beach government continues to struggle with how to deal with its growing homeless population. And, once again, the local churches are being blamed.

Listening to the public safety committee this week, you get the impression elected officials on the beach are not even communicating with the county on the issue. As you can see from our previous story, the Lee County Board of Commissioners has put together a very detailed plan to help the homeless. Is any of that help reaching the homeless on the beach? If not, why not? We do know the LCSO H.O.T. Team has made at least one visit to the beach, according to Captain Tim Lalor.

Committee member Tom Gressman pulled no punches. He said the churches need to stop providing the services for the homeless. “We’re enabling these folks. This is a town council issue. The council should meet with the churches and say your programs are fantastic but we’re not going to do them physically on the beach. There isn’t a soup kitchen on 5th avenue south in Naples. I don’t believe there’s one on Sanibel. We’re enabling folks.”

Many believe that if the churches stop providing help the homeless will find other ways to eat, because, they still have to eat (Listen to our January 2019 interview with Beach Baptist pastor Shawn Critser about the homless problem HERE). That could mean breaking into homes or businesses for food.

The community will never forget that beloved librarian Leroy Hommerding was murdered by a homeless man. Two weeks ago, a homeless man was arrested in Times Square for threatening to come back with a gun and kill a Plaka restaurant employee. The issue rarely comes up during public discussion at town council meetings. The issue is real but appears to be ignored at that level.

Also referring to the churches on the beach, committee member Suzanne Bahan said, “They are feeding them and offering them a place to shower, clean clothes, but there’s no rehabilitation going along with that.”

Bahan said, “perhaps if someone receives food and clothing for 3 or 4 days, they are also taken off the island to Job Corps. to help that person get a job or help them deal with the issues that led to them becoming homeless. There needs to be a better way. They need jobs, they need mental health counseling. They need access to health care. We need to find those resources or put limitations on the resources they receive unless they’re actively participating in getting help and becoming productive members of society again. If they don’t want the help, they don’t continue to get food and clothing.”

Committee member Jim Knickle said the only way this will change will be government driven, county driven, and it needs to be a complete package of services.

Committee Chair John Goggin added, “making sure everyone is on the same page is going to help.”

1 COMMENT

  1. United Way and Goodwill would be good resources to start. They can steer the way to recovery.

    A HAND UP NOT HAND OUT.

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