A section of Ft. Lauderdale’s homeless population will be looking for a new resting spot following a month-long closure of Stranahan Park.
Dozens lined up Friday to get vouchers for bus passes to leave the area. Others gathered their belongings awaiting word on whether or not they’ll be given a hotel room provided by the city for a few days.
The situation unfolded after city officials said they received a notice of violation from the state health department that there are unsanitary conditions in the park. Specifically, it’s infested with rodents.
Earlier in the afternoon, a backhoe dumped items from the makeshift homeless encampment. CBS4’s Carey Codd was told that it was simply trash and not people’s belongings. Instead, those were loaded into large recycle bins and taken to the Ft. Lauderdale Police Dept. where the homeless will have access to it.
“That tractor that you just hear starting up, pulled up and started grabbing things, dumping in the roll off box, the dumpster,” said Trinidad Deleon, who lived at the park. “Some of it was our personal effects — clothes, pictures of loved ones, our Bibles.”
The move comes as a surprise to those who, for years, have camped out and been fed at the park.
Many feel it’s just a pretext to move the homeless out of Stranahan Park and out of downtown Ft. Lauderdale.
“Here, it just seems like an epidemic, the more people, ya know, in one area or whatnot, that they don’t like, over a period of time, they’re just going to do this to you,” said Trinidad DeLeon. “So all they’re doing is just pushing the envelope down to the next part of the city.”
Mayor Jack Seiler disputes that.
“We have a health, safety, welfare issue,” said the mayor. “This is not about the homeless in the park, this is not about whether that park has had a history of problems. This is about the health, safety and welfare of people today in that park, people in that park going forward.”
The mayor said they have 23 hotel rooms that people can stay in for a week. They also have 15 beds at a shelter. There are also 7-day Broward County bus passes for people who need to get somewhere else in the county.
A homeless woman named Jennifer didn’t like the way the situation was handled.
“We’re clean,” she said. “We’re civilized. We’re just homeless. We’re not classless. We’re not education-less. Have a little more compassion.”
She said the problem is the difficulty of getting help.
“They promise us shelter,” she said. “They promise us help. But you have to have an addiction or a problem to get the help.”
Homeless advocates believe this highlights a bigger problem — a lack of housing for struggling people.
“This is another example of kicking the can down the road without any solution, without providing what homeless people need most which is housing,” said Jeff Weinberger.
Robin Martin with Rebuilding Together Broward says they are making consistent progress getting people in permanent housing in the county but the problem persists.
“Until you have enough housing available for people, what do you do? How do you care for them?” Martin said. “And today this was not a good example of the city. It was not the best side of Fort Lauderdale.”
The mayor said the park will be shut down for at least 30 days while it’s cleaned.
CBS4 News asked the mayor what happens when the park reopens and the homeless want to return. Seiler He said they’re not ready to tackle that issue yet. He said that will likely be discussed by the city commission over the coming weeks.