Tent City under Matanzas Pass bridge: A haven for Ian's homeless
Lee County has begun a gentle push to help Hurricane Ian victims leave a tent city near Fort Myers Beach. Some of the people are starting their fifth month living under the bridge on approach to the hurricane-devastated island.
About 15 tents and small campers make up this haven for Ian's homeless. During the day people sit in chairs under the Matanzas Pass bridge, a state road span that connects the mainland to Fort Myers Beach.
"We have lots of things to be thankful for," Jay Burki said.
He explained that he was living on a boat when Ian struck, and thanks the Coast Guard for rescuing him. Burki said Ian's surge smashed his boat and left it in some woods on the mainland. He admitted that living in a tent for about four months is getting old.
"I'm tired of sitting here, I am tired of laying on the bed," Burki said. "I've been anxious to get back on a boat since day one."
People at tent city have no running water. They go to nearby businesses to use bathrooms, or walk a couple of blocks to temporary restrooms and showers, set up by emergency services.
Tiffany Fivecoat said she is Native American, 54 years old.
"I feel weak and I feel vulnerable," she said. "I feel tired. And I am sick of listening to all the garbage I got to listen to. I feel like I'm dying, minute-by-minute."
Lee County said outreach workers from Human and Veterans Services are visiting the encampment and talking with people about options to perhaps move into transitional housing elsewhere.
Nearby restaurants like Bonita Bill's, which hopes to re-open soon, say the campers don't cause problems. But that restaurant's manager said it's time for the campers to move on; Bonita Bill's worker Leah Brakefield agreed.
"There has been significant concern from people returning," she said. "You know: When is that going to get cleaned up? When are they moving out? So people have noticed. It would be delusional to think that is a permanent situation, under the bridge. It's going to have to get cleaned up, sooner or later."
Camper Robin Hardin said she and her partner are moving out soon, after getting an offer to live on a boat.
"I am so happy I could cry," Hardin said. "It's been a very long camping trip!!"
Lee County said outreach workers will return to the encampment, and continue to help the campers find ways to leave tent city.
Mike Walcher is a Visiting Assistant Professor in Journalism at FGCU, and can be reached at email@example.com. WGCU is your trusted source for news and information in Southwest Florida. We are a nonprofit public service, and your support is more critical than ever. Keep public media strong and donate now. Thank you.