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The Pulse: LCSO addresses the issue of homelessness in North Fort Myers

North Fort Myers Neighbor Living special feature

By Staff | Aug 18, 2021

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno

Law enforcement agencies around the nation have grappled with the issues relating to homelessness and the community’s backlash to this societal matter.

While the Lee County Sheriff’s Office has a responsibility to respond to the requests of property owners to remove those residing on their properties…especially ahead of impending construction…there exists a duty to assist individuals lacking shelter, food and ample clothing. Public service is just that…service to the entire community, regardless of status, regardless of race, age, gender, ethnicity, etc.

A barbarous pandemic worsened an already burdensome circumstance forcing those unable to retain housing into the wooded areas of Lee County.

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office continues to enforce property matters involving homeless occupation, however, is making every effort to leverage the many county social programs available to assist these individuals. The “H.O.T.” team, for example, is a partnership between the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and Lee County Human and Veteran Services and, together, these agencies are able to work efficiently at both the law enforcement and social services components.

In North Fort Myers, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office North District, working in conjunction the Board of County Commissioners, continues to visit homeless camps nestled in the dark, wooded areas. With the assistance of Lee County employees, those in need are being offered shelter, an opportunity to receive medical care, enrollment in mental health and/or substance abuse services and an opportunity to obtain Florida identification, which without, makes procuring services and employment impossible.

Hancock Bridge Square Plaza, for example, has sat vacant for years and became a haven for those who are homeless. Unfortunately, the closure of retail stores also created a vacuum that was quickly filled by criminals conducting narcotics transactions and participating in other illicit activities.

Ridding the area of drugs, prostitution and other criminal enterprises required significant work on the part of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office… and there were no ethical or moral issues when doing so. Many of those involved in illegal activity in and around the Hancock Bridge Square Plaza are currently incarcerated and awaiting further judicial activity.

Addressing those who are homeless was a far more difficult task.

Being homeless, in and of itself, is not illegal. It is not necessarily the result of personal failure. It is not a condition requiring additional punishment or judgement.

As an affordable housing crisis has spread across the nation, many low-income families lost their shelter and do not have the financial means to avoid homelessness.

Like the virus that has plagued the nation, many wish homelessness would simply dissipate. Sadly, there is no vaccination to eradicate homelessness and this issue will take ongoing and diligent efforts.

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office will continue to enforce trespassing laws, and will do so in a respectful and dignified manner, while making every effort to offer opportunities to those desperately in need of virtually everything.

Lee County Sheriff

Carmine Marceno