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‘Community Conversations’ at the Beacon

January 24, 2019
By ED FRANKS ( , Pine Island Eagle

The Lee County Department of Human and Veteran Services held a "Community Conversation" meeting last Wednesday night at the Beacon of HOPE to get feedback on community issues on Pine Island and Matlacha.

Jeannie Sutton, the grants coordinator at Lee County Human and Veteran Services, addressed the crowd.

"These meetings offer an opportunity for people to share their opinions and offer suggestions on how to solve issues like homelessness, affordable housing, poverty and other things," Sutton said.

All input from the community will be considered in the development of the 2019-2023 Consolidated Plan, 2019 Annual Action Plan, 2019 Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice and 2019-2021 Community Services Block Grant Strategic Plan.

According to Lee County's website, the Consolidated Plan covers a five-year period and provides strategies to address housing, homelessness and community development needs.

"The HUD program addresses mostly homelessness and low income situations," Sutton said. "HUD requires the Department of Human and Veteran Services to perform a 'Point in Time' count of homeless people in a given area to receive grants."

Last month Sutton conducted Community Conversa-tion meetings in Sanibel and Fort Myers.

"Tonight's target discussion is Pine Island and Matlacha," Sutton said. "At this time we're looking for homeless data."

The Lee County Homeless coalition estimates there are 2,957 homeless individuals in Lee County. The federal definition of homelessness is "Living in a place not intended for human habitation."

Beacon Executive Director Betsy Haesemeyer estimates there may be as many as 100 homeless living in wooded camps on Pine Island.

"We have some couples but most are single men and some are veterans living in the woods," Haesemeyer said. "What we need is some type of shelter and transportation for them."

A question was raised about the requirements that must be met for a homeless person to qualify for housing.

"In many cases the requirement is that a person needs to be employed," Haesemeyer said. "That's difficult to do when they don't have a place to live and transportation."

"Lee County is moving in the direction of housing first," Sutton said. "That means putting someone directly from the street into housing because the assumption is once they are in housing all those other things, jobs, transportation, etc., will follow through good case management."

The amount of funding the area receives depends on an accurate accounting of the number of homeless persons on the island.

The Lee County Department of Human and Veteran Services will be holding a "Point in Time Count" at the Pine Island Food Pantry on Jan. 31 from 8-10:30 a.m. Local agencies are encouraging Pine Island homeless to attend. Transportation will be provided by the Beacon of HOPE.

Volunteers will be doing a survey with homeless people and each will receive a gift backpack with supplies.

"For those that don't come, we will download the application to our cell phones and go to the camps to count everyone," Haesemeyer said.

The Beacon of HOPE has moved a big step forward in transporting with the recent acquisition of a shuttle bus with wheelchair accessibility.

"The bus was part of the Red Rose Transit system in Lancaster, Pennsylvania," Haesemeyer said. "The vehicle has low mileage and was meticulously maintained so it's a great find for us."

Other topics discussed were housing, economic development, senior and individuals with disabilities/veterans, fair housing, and public facilities.

"I'm really pleased with the turnout and with Lee County Department of Human and Veteran Services coming out to Pine Island with these Community Conversations," Haesemeyer said. "This creates a direct line of communication that moving forward will benefit everybody."

The Beacon of HOPE has been assisting Pine Island's needy since Hurricane Charlie in August 2004.



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