CAPE CORAL, Fla.- WINK News is looking further into the case of a 13-year-old accused of murdering a homeless man in Cape Coral. Police say Yoel Munoz went into a homeless camp off Pine Island Road and killed Thomas Bergstrom.
Tonight WINK News investigated and found crimes against homeless people in Lee County are all too common.
At any given time in the city of Cape Coral, police say there are about 30-40 active homeless camps. Some are hidden deep in the woods, miles off the trail, like the one where Bergstrom was allegedly murdered. Others, maybe a few feet off the sidewalk, making the homeless an easy target for crime.
Those that knew 51-year-old Thomas Bergstrom say he was happy living the life of a homeless man, building a home off Pine Island Road, and those that work with the homeless everyday, like Officer Gerald Moll, say Bergstrom isn't alone in his choice.
"Chronic homeless, unfortunately, they get into that, and it's very hard to get them out. It's a major challenge," said Moll.
But their choice, also makes them vulnerable.
"They don't live behind four walls, doors and windows. All their personal belongings are out in the open," said Moll.
Janet Bartos with the Lee County Homeless Coalition says the country has seen an increase in violence against the homeless, and in Florida, these are considered hate crimes. But Officer Moll says he hasn't noticed large numbers in Cape Coral.
"To treat them with dignity, and try to point them toward more permanent housing, is the goal here," said Moll.
Still the threat of violence, makes their mission to help even more important.
The Lee County Homeless Coalition says they've currently counted about 3,000 homeless people in the county.
So what's being done to help them?
Chronic homelessness, like the life Thomas Bergstom lived, is hard to help.
"This is their home, this is where they live, this is their neighborhood, this is the community they interact with," said Moll.
Moll says homelessness isn't a crime, so the police can't force them out of property they don't own.
He says what the city does do, is work with the homeless, making sure they know what programs and shelters are available to them.
"When you are homeless, what I tell them, is that you are still a human being. Still should be treated with respect," said Moll.
Moll works with Janet Bartos.
"In fact this past year with our most recent count, we saw an increase of 2.7% with the homeless population," said Bartos.
She says poverty and lack of affordable housing are to blame. And Florida ranks second in the country for least affordable housing.
BUt she still they don't plan to give up.
"Right now our shelters are full so we are looking at different brining approach like housing first into our community."