People already battling homelessness will struggle to find somewhere to go. This comes after the city of Fort Myers announces Centennial Park will be closed for a year for renovations. But some local activists are trying to help these homeless people find a new place to stay.
Richard Villamanan calls one covered bench in Centennial Park his home. “This is temporary but no one expects to live outdoors full-time, forever,” Villamanan said.
Sunday is the last day he’ll be able to take his warm meals back to his park bench. The city is shutting down Centennial until next spring for renovations. In the meantime, he and others who use the park for shelter will be forced to find a new place to stay.
“What they’ve done is simply take the housing away from us with the promise of something new. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’m out in the weather,” said Villamanan.
Activists are calling for leaders in Fort Myers to provide adequate services for the people who called Centennial Park home. They also hope that none of them will receive citations.
“To help people versus criminalizing behavior that is simply people who are in a disadvantaged situation,” Ken Clairmont, one of the activists, said.
The city is working with Lee County Health and Human Services and the Lee County Homeless Coalition to ensure there will be sheltering options. They are also trying to connect those who live in the park with Park services while Centennial undergoes those renovations.
But Villamanan doesn’t believe it’s sincere. “Totally just thrown over the side. Because if they were serious about providing an alternative assistance, you would’ve done it before you close the park not after,” he said.
The city of Fort Myers also says that Fort Myers Police and Lee County Sheriff’s deputies are undergoing a homeless outreach team training.
Still, the demonstrators do not believe that is enough. “What’s upsetting to me is seeing people being treated this way in the wake of all the new development and the money that’s coming into downtown,” Clairmont said.
Activists say they will stay overnight and for as long as they have to, all to ensure that those who called Centennial Park home have a new and safe place to go.
WINK News reached out to the Fort Myers Police Department about how officers will respond to Centennial Park closing and the homeless having nowhere to go. We are still awaiting a response.