The Working Homeless Part 6: Community steps up while homeless man waits for public assistance in Lee County

Published: January 5, 2022 3:43 PM EST
Updated: January 25, 2022 10:53 AM EST

Brent Grayson will no longer need to leave work here at The Oasis Restaurant and walk the city in search of a safe place in the woods to sleep at night. People are watching our reports and offering support.

Some people have dropped off cards at his work.

“I don’t want to cry in front of everybody,” says Grayson.

The kind words and cash tucked inside this red envelope are not lost on Grayson.

Brent reads us the card. It says, “Brent, you don’t know me, but I know your story. My brother spent much of his life on the streets. You will be in my thoughts and prayers, (Grayson wipes his eyes. He’s holding a $50 bill.)

MORE: Click here for continuing coverage in The Working Homeless series

After watching our latest report, where Grayson talks about the grueling weeks-long wait for any help or guidance from Lee County Human and Veteran Services…

“Nobody has called me. Nobody has even attempted to email me,” says Grayson.

The manager of a local hotel reached out to help, saying she wants to be part of the solution.

“There’s a problem here in Fort Myers. Individuals are working, some are working 7 days a week and they can’t afford rent,” she says. “I didn’t want anyone to be carrying their belongings to work and storing everything they needed behind where they work. “It was your reporting that brought us to this situation, to where we are now.”

She says she’s working to provide Grayson with a night job and some housing until he gets the help he needs from the county.

“I feel more secure, I feel safer now,” says Grayson. “Personally, I feel now, getting off the street, is going to make a big impact in my life.”

Grayson says he also had his first one-on-one conversation with his assigned homeless outreach worker, named Ashley. Fort Myers Police Officer Ryan Beiner, who’s part of the Homeless Outreach Team, explains how that works.

“The outreach worker goes back out, makes contact with them, again. Speaks to them, tells them how they can help and what needs to be done… kind of picks through the last couple years of their life and tries to determine the right course of action for them,” says Beiner. “And then it’ll be going to the case manager, and that case manager will kind of keep with them the rest of the way.”

The timeline for this next step is unclear.

Celine: “You signed him up for services on December 16.

Beiner: “Yes.”

Celine: “It’s the fifth of January. That’s, that’s a long time, to be on the street.”

Beiner: “It is a long time, but you have to understand as well, that we’re talking about 1000s of people… One person might wait a month, but that’s because a thousand people, almost two thousand people are being assisted within the county.”

Grayson says he’s taking it one day at a time, but his goals are now clearly in sight—a home and a community to call his own.

“I want to be in my own place, where I have a key, going into my apartment, seeing my nice neighbors, ‘Hi, Good Morning,’ watching them walk their dogs around… one of those types of areas,” says Grayson.

To be clear, Grayson’s temporary housing and his new job offer did not come from Lee County Human and Veteran Services; that was a private business that came forward to help him. As of Thursday morning, there’s no telling when the county will help him get into his own apartment.

Roger Mercado, director of the department, says it takes an average of 70 days from when someone registered in the system—this is day 21 for Grayson.

The support he is getting from the community shows people care and will help when they’re informed about what is and what isn’t happening in their communities. WINK News is receiving emails from more people asking for help, with one family living out of a car with a 5-year-old. If you need help, the first step is to call the Lee County Homeless Coalition’s Coordinated Entry at (239) 533-7996.

You can follow Brett Grayson’s journey here and on our Facebook page. You can also join in on the conversation. Email me at [email protected].