Homeless in Paradise: Fort Lauderdale struggles with impact of city’s homeless population

WSVN — Fort Lauderdale got a lot of bad publicity when it banned feeding the homeless on the streets a few years ago. The city has backed off the ban, but it’s still trying to deal with the homeless problem. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the case.

Stranahan Park is a beautiful green space in Downtown Fort Lauderdale, but it has an ugly problem.

Imagine strolling through the park and seeing a man defecating and then stripping leaves off of a plant to wipe himself.

Jo Ann Smith, Fort Lauderdale Women’s Club: "And they use the butterfly garden at night, and it’s just full of feces and bugs and maggots."
   
Jo Ann Smith is the president of the Fort Lauderdale Women’s Club, which is located in the park. Despite a $100,000 plus renovation, the park has become a toilet for homeless people.

They line up along the park’s eastern fence. This man didn’t even stand up to urinate — just unzipped and aimed into the park.

Jo Ann Smith: "We understand that it’s hard to be homeless, but you don’t have to be disrespectful."

But life on the street is unimaginably difficult.

Jeff Weinberger, homeless advocate: "What homelessness defines is a situation where everything you do of necessity is in full view."

Jeff Weinberger is an advocate for the homeless. He blames government for failing to provide better options. And so does Gloria Lewis.

Gloria Lewis, Care in Action USA: "These are good people. The majority of them do want help, but they can’t move to the next step."

You’ll find her a couple of days a week feeding the park people and praying with them.

She’s a waitress, and on her days off, she cooks and delivers food based on her belief we should all help each other.

Gloria Lewis: "I am on the city’s side, but I’m saying you can’t put problems on top of another problem. Come up with a solution."

That’s easier said than done.

The park was renovated to try to move the homeless out of the area. They just moved to the sidewalk. The park is locked at night, but the fence was broken so they could climb over. And nearby business owners have complained about the homeless keeping customers away.

The mayor’s been dealing with it for years.

Jack Seiler, Mayor of Fort Lauderdale: "Carmel, it seems to be a lot of them don’t want the assistance that we offer."

He says everybody should be able to use and enjoy the park.

Jack Seiler: "And right now, the volume of the homeless people here is having an adverse impact on others using and enjoying this park."

Recently, the police department tagged and threatened to confiscate bags of belongings. That cleaned things up some, but generated criticism from advocates.

Jeff Weinberger: "We need to stop demonizing people because they are homeless."

Carmel Cafiero: "Do you think that’s what’s happening here in Fort Lauderdale?"

Jeff Weinberger: "It’s happening in Fort Lauderdale, and it’s also what’s happening across the entire country."

Meanwhile, good Samaritans continue to deliver food and clothing and offers of help to the homeless.

The mayor says he wishes all this help could happen inside existing agencies and not outside on the city’s streets.

Carmel Cafiero, 7News.

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