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Fort Myers continues to fence in Centennial Park, looks for homeless to leave on own terms

The City of Fort Myers added more fencing at Centennial Park, as it continues to prepare the park for a year of renovations.

We’ve continued to report the impact this this will have on many people experiencing homelessness in the community, who are now struggling to find another place to call home.

With lot of questions left to answer, there are two things we know for sure: People can still walk in and live under this pavilion, where many people said they have stayed the last couple year. But the number of people doing that has decreased significantly.

The city originally planned for everyone to be gone from the pavilion days ago, so crews could start renovations to the park.

“We’ve been telling them, and cops have been telling them, for a week now, that they were supposed to be out by Sunday,” said Kat Duestershaus, a community activist. “So we have more questions than answers at this time.”

We spoke to Mayor Randy Henderson, who agreed and acknowledged people living at the pavilion were supposed to be out Sunday. But he said it’s also part of the city’s strategy to let those folks leave on their own terms.

“There’s been a determined and intentional slowdown of putting up the fence in order to avoid literally having to chase them away from the park,” Henderson said. “We don’t want to lay hands on any human being and escort them away. We want them to go on their own free will to a place where they feel safe.”

Henderson also told us he’s heard the homeless activists on the news, activists who believe the City of Fort Myers and Lee County are fencing people off without offering up any other places to live.

“The anxiety is you don’t know where you’re going to go,” said Willie Joe, who is homeless.

Mayor Henderson said there has been an effort to look for a solution for those experiencing homelessness, who are now looking toward their next step with the expected closure of Centennial Park.

“We have identified a number of shelters and beds that they can go to,” Henderson said. “It’s not going to take care of every homeless person, but it’s going to help those who are in the park who want to do that.”

Activists told us they are running out of options and protection people who are living at Centennial Park, and they are demanding help for them.

We were told some activists and those experiencing homelessness were planning to march to city hall downtown, but that did not happen for fear they would not be allowed back to the park as well as fear their possession would not be kept safe.

“The march was to provide some visibility to these guys and create, really, an orderly exit of the park because we don’t want there to be confrontations,” activist Ken Clairmont said.  “We don’t want people to be subject to law enforcement. We want them cared for.”

Reporter:Sydney Persing
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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