The Lee County Sheriff’s Office held a press conference on Tuesday to announce the creation of ‘Homeless Outreach Teams’ – or ‘HOT’ teams – in partnership with the county government.
The teams will consist of a trained civilian, a crisis-intervention deputy from the sheriff’s office, and a licensed mental health professional provided by the county. They will be placed throughout the county, including in downtown Fort Myers, where Centennial Park was recently closed, leaving many homeless people without a place to gather and sleep.
Sheriff Carmine Marceno said they have been in contact with Fort Myers police but they are not one of the partners for this initiative.
The goal of the five ‘HOT’ teams is to proactively seek out those in need of help and to learn from them. “We are going to seek them out. We’re going to earn their trust we’re going to learn their stories and their needs and then we’re going to connect them with the services that make sense for them,” said Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman.
Among other things, they’ll be providing treatment services and helping to fill housing needs if possible. By giving the homeless access to services, programs, and benefits, they hope to combat the homeless problem in Lee County and give them a better life.
“The hot teams make contact whenever we see someone who may be in crisis and members of the hot team first address the individuals’ medical and housing needs,” said Sheriff Marceno. “We also provide transportations information and treatment facilities if needed.”
Hamman brought up that families contacted him after seeing the homeless, wondering if they’re getting the help they need, so he felt he had to be a part of the ‘HOT’ Teams initiative. Commissioner Ray Sandelli said, “It’s very personal for me in some ways.”
People in Lee County are also concerned about their own safety and the safety of those who are living on the streets.
However, Hamman did point out that some of the homeless people do not want the county’s help and in fact, refuse it.
Commissioner Ray Sandelli pointed out that while this isn’t a “one size fits all solution,” they are doing what they can. Marceno said they are “not ignoring it.”
According to Marceno, homelessness seems to be growing across Lee County. This could be exacerbated by the economic impacts of the pandemic. Commissioner Sandelli worries that as the pandemic continues, the issue will only get worse.
“I wanted to hear from them tell me your story where do you go so on and so forth and then we took that information and we broke it down. And that’s when we found that there’s differences,” he said.
Sherriff Marceno said the conversations between people and the ‘HOT’ team members will be judgment-free. If anyone has a substance abuse issue, that will not prevent them from getting the help they need.
You can watch the stream below or by following this link.