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Fort Myers mayor says he’ll form homelessness task force to create solutions

There is a continued push to respond to the homeless population of Fort Myers and help people put roofs over their heads. The newly-elected mayor says he has a plan to start the process.

Still, some advocates in the city are skeptical of leadership decisions, since Fort Myers City Council voted to sell four lots for single-family use to start the week. Homeless advocates say those lots could have been used to develop affordable housing.

Despite those concerns, Mayor Kevin Anderson said Monday he plans to form a task force to respond to homelessness in Fort Myers. The details of what it will look like and who will be on it are still up in the air, homeless advocates said that is also concerning for them.

As new leadership comes on board for the City of Fort Myers, those experiencing homelessness and homeless advocates hope they will work toward fixing an old problem.

“We need to have places for people to go, not the parks, not the library,” said Willie Joe Shotmiller, who is homeless.

On the day he was sworn in as the new mayor of Fort Myers Monday, Anderson said he wanted to start a homelessness task force, something homeless advocate Kat Duesterhaus was initially excited to hear. She’d like to see more transparency from the city on how they are working to solve homelessness. She originally went to Monday night’s city council meeting to encourage the new city council to create a task force.

“A task force that was created to actually implement those housing first principles, increase those housing, increase access to these housing services that would be beneficial,” Duesterhaus said.

But advocates worry the task force will be more law enforcement driven, leading to the homeless being arrested instead of leading them to help.

“Homelessness is not a criminal issue,” Duesterhaus said. “It is a matter of social services. So I think that a true task force, if it was composed of advocates in service providers and some public officials, that would be a good start. But I’m worried that this task force is going to just further the criminalization of those in poverty. We need houses not handcuffs.”

Mayor Kevin Anderson hopes to announce who will be on the homelessness task force at the start of the new year.

Homeless advocates hope to keep the crisis in the front and center at city council meetings.

“We need to all work together to help each other,” Shotmiller said.

Reporter:Andryanna Sheppard
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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