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Items filtered by date: Monday, 13 June 2016
Tuesday, 14 June 2016 15:56

When a Man

When a man thinks he's a duck then hes diagnosed as having a mental illness. When a man thinks he's possessed he has a mental illness. When a man thinks that he's a super hero then hes diagnosed as having a mental illness. When a little boy thinks he's a 60 year old manu hes diagnosed as having a mental illness. When a man thinks he's a cream cheese bagel he obvously has a mental illness. When a man thinks he's hearing voices in his head hes mentally ill. But when a man thinks he's a woman but his penis, genetics, chemical make up, and birth certificate (determined by trained medical professionals) indicate otherwise then its merely an "identity issue. And when a man with an identity issue (apparently an alternative word for mental illness) hes all at once vested with some special "rights" that permits him to shower and go potty next to little girls.
 
Craig Weston
Published in Letters To The Editor
Tuesday, 14 June 2016 15:55

Senator Sends Memorial Day Message

Too often, the true meaning of Memorial Day gets lost amid all the holiday sales and backyard barbecues. But as you gather with friends or simply enjoy some time off, it’s important to remember why we set aside this day each May. 

It’s a day to remember the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in our nation’s armed forces. It’s a day to pay tribute to them for their courage and selflessness. And it’s a day to thank them for their service and pray for the loved ones they left behind.  

              I spent Monday in Mims, Florida and attended a Memorial Day ceremony at the new Cape Canaveral National Cemetery. The courageous warriors laid to rest there are true American heroes, as are all who lost their lives in service to their country. It’s important that we, as a nation, pause to remember them and the sacrifices they’ve made — after all, that’s what this day is really all about.

              Bill Nelson U.S. Senator              

Published in Letters To The Editor
Tuesday, 14 June 2016 15:47

God's Table

There are thousands of homeless people throughout our nation and a multitude of programs that offer aid and assistance. One such program, found locally here on Fort Myers Beach is known as “God’s Table” located at the Chapel by the Sea.  Formally an ecumenical program that has been serving the community for 14 years it is internally described as the Community Cooperative.  Community Cooperative took it over 2 years ago when asked to step in by the program director who at the time was having a bout of bad health. 
God’s Table offers daily assistance and aid to the homeless through the untiring efforts of its volunteers.  Every morning at 7:00 volunteers gather at the Chapel by the Sea to offer a safe place where food is shared, clothing is provided, showers are available and a sack lunch is prepared to hand out. 
The volunteers at God’s Table are guided by compassion and share a common goal to help those in need. One example is Darc Graffam who has volunteered at the program for the past two and a half years.
“I don’t do it for my own self-satisfaction but to honor God because he told me to take care of the poor and I love to cook,” said Graffam with an effervescent smile on her face.
Another who feel the need to serve our local homeless is Charlotte Walters who has been volunteering at God’s Table for about a year.
“I feel blessed” she said while packing up sack lunches, “if I can help in some way,” she added.
In addition to God’s Table every Friday at 7:30am there is an onsite Family Health Center Homeless Clinic, a program put in place to aid and assist individuals who meet the criteria (essentially being without Medicaid or Medicare coverages). 
The volunteers at God’s Table are obviously dedicated to serving the poor and encourage others to help them in their daily service of compassion.  If you are interested or willing to volunteer with the folks at God’s Table, then visit them at Chapel by the Sea, where any of the regular volunteers will be happy to find a place for you. 
When asked why she chose to volunteer at God’s Table, another well-known local, Gretchen Johnson, who has been at God’s Table approximately two years, was clear with conviction.
“I must do something for my fellow man,” said Johnson.
The number of services offered to the homeless on the Beach at God’s Table are notable. They have a Nurse Practitioner on site that sees patients as well as Pharmacy and Prescription assistance.
The volunteers at God’s Table enjoy helping out so much that even when they are shorthanded during the off-season, summer months, they still persevere to get the job done.
There are some in the community that question why the same people seem to always be at the Table. When asked if they see a lot of the same faces, Graffam replied affirmatively.  
“Yes its heart breaking to see some of them who don’t want to be helped but some are in situations where they are unable to help themselves such as a disability or they may lack family and relationships,” she explained.”
Fort Myers Beach has other services available to its residents such as the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Monday thru Friday between 9:00 & 10:00 a.m. 365 days of the year and Wednesday during Beach season St. Vincent offers services such as budget counseling, rent assistance, emergency transportation, referral services, assistance with utility bills, bus passes, and food vouchers as well as a food pantry.  They also house a representative from the Veterans Administration and the Salvation Army to assist veterans applying for medical benefits and pensions as well as, assessing individuals for case management services.
Looking elsewhere around Florida, it became quite clear that other communities take a less compassionate approach to the homeless.
Sarasota Florida recently lifted a law against “flying signs” in December of 2015.  A panhandler can now go out and fly a sign to make $20 in an hour.  Before the law was lifted it could have cost up to $500 in fines or up to 60 days in jail but Sarasota has now become a haven for panhandlers.  The law was lifted allowing the homeless to solicit money from people in their vehicles, because the ACLU felt it infringed upon their constitutional right to freedom of speech.  As a result there has been an influx of homeless pouring in to Sarasota because of the newly passed laws.  With all the panhandlers coming in and lining their medians and roadways city officials plan to review this updated ordinance that will permit the police to arrest panhandlers in the street and on the medians. 
The question on everybody’s mind is when are we extending our hand too far and how far do we go to help those in need.  
Published in General/Features
NAIROBI, Kenya, June 5, 2016 (ENS) – “More than one quarter of the world’s elephant population has been killed in a decade,” according to the International Police, INTERPOL, and the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, in a new report that emphasizes the financial machinations behind environmental crimes such as poaching.
Published today on the UN-backed World Environment Day, the “rapid response report” finds that the value of environmental crime has risen by 26 percent since 2014.
In fact, environmental crime is the world’s fourth largest criminal enterprise – after drug smuggling, counterfeiting and human trafficking, Interpol and UNEP say environmental crime dwarfs the illegal trade in small arms, which is valued at about US$3 billion annually.
“Environmental crime is growing at an alarming pace.” said Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock, who heads the world’s largest international police organization, with 190 member countries.
“The complexity of this type of criminality requires a multi-sector response underpinned by collaboration across borders. Through its global policing capabilities, Interpol is resolutely committed to working with its member countries to combat the organized crime networks active in environmental crime,” he said.
Some of the most vulnerable wildlife, including rhinos and elephants, are being killed at a rate that has grown by more than 25 percent every year over the last 10 years, the report states.
In that same 10 year period, poachers have killed an average of 3,000 elephants a year in Tanzania, roughly 10 elephants a day losing their lives to poachers and other kinds of human-elephant conflict.
The ivory is smuggled to Asia where it is carved into ornamental objects that are in high demand.
The report calculates that as an annual street value for ivory traffickers of US$10.5 million, an amount five times greater than the entire national budget of Tanzania’s wildlife division.
That pattern is repeated on a broader scale. The amount of money lost from environmental crime is 10,000 times greater than the amount of money spent by international agencies on combating it, just US$20-30 million, the report estimates.
The two organizations – the international environmental agency and the international police agency – pooled their data and calculated that the value of environmental crime has ballooned to US$91-258 billion today. In 2014 it stood at US$70-213 billion.
Titled “The Rise of Environmental Crime,” the report blames weak laws and inadequate funding for security forces for the inability of many countries to prevent international criminal networks and armed rebels from profiting from a trade that fuels conflicts, devastates ecosystems and is threatening species with extinction.
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “The rise of environmental crime across the world is deeply troubling. The vast sums of money generated from these despicable crimes are fueling insecurity and keeping highly sophisticated international criminal gangs in business. It is essential the world acts now to combat this growing menace before it is too late.”
The report recommends strong action, legislation and sanctions at national and international levels.
To begin taking effective action against poachers, UNEP and Interpol would like to see legislation targeted at disrupting overseas tax havens.
They want a big increase in financial support, enough to deal with the serious threat environmental crime poses to sustainable development.
Poachers need to find other ways of making a living, the report acknowledges. The basic problem – poverty – will not be solved until there are economic incentives and alternative livelihoods for those at the bottom of the environmental crime chain, such as poachers.

 

Published in Environment

According to reporter Debra Heine, while the nation is focused on the 2016 Republican and Democrat presidential campaigns, “the Obama administration has been continuing its lawless policies on the Mexican border. Judicial Watch reports that the Department of Homeland Security has been "quietly transporting" illegal aliens from the border to Phoenix and letting them go without processing or issuing court appearance documents. JW's Border Patrol sources say that this week alone, the government transferred 35 "Other Than Mexican" (OTM) immigrants 116 miles north from Tucson to a Phoenix bus station. From there, they were allowed to go their separate ways.”

Judicial Watch was on the ground when one of the white vans carrying a group of OTMs arrived at a Phoenix Greyhound station.

The OTMs are from Honduras, Colombia, El Salvador and Guatemala and Border Patrol officials say this week’s batch was in custody for a couple of days and ordered to call family members in the U.S. so they could purchase a bus ticket for their upcoming trip from Phoenix. Authorities didn’t bother checking the identity of the U.S. relatives or if they’re in the country legally, according to a Border Patrol official directly involved in the matter. American taxpayers pick up the fare for those who claim to have a “credible fear,” Border Patrol sources told JW. None of the OTMs were issued official court appearance documents, but were told to “promise” they’d show up for a hearing when notified, said federal agents with firsthand knowledge of the operation.

A security company contracted by the U.S. government is driving the OTMs from the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector where they were in custody to Phoenix, sources said. The firm is called G4S and claims to be the world’s leading security solutions group with operations in more than 100 countries and 610,000 employees. G4S has more than 50,000 employees in the U.S. and its domestic headquarters is in Jupiter, Florida. Judicial Watch is filing a number of public records requests to get more information involving the arrangement between G4S and the government, specifically the transport of illegal immigrants from the Mexican border to other parts of the country. The photo accompanying this story shows the uniformed G4S guard that transported the OTMs this week from Tucson to Phoenix.

Outraged Border Patrol agents and supervisors on the front lines say illegal immigrants are being released in droves because there’s no room to keep them in detention. “They’re telling us to put them on a bus and let them go,” said one law enforcement official in Arizona. “Just move those bodies across the country.” Officially, DHS denies this is occurring and in fact earlier this year U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske blasted Border Patrol union officials for denouncing this dangerous catch-and-release policy. Kerlikowske’s scolding came in response to the congressional testimony of Bandon Judd, chief of the National Border Patrol Council, the labor union that represents line agents. Judd told lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee that illegal immigrants without serious criminal convictions can be released immediately and disappear into the shadows. Kerlikowske shot back, telling a separate congressional committee: “I would not stand by if the Border Patrol was — releasing people without going through all of the formalities.”

Source Judicial Watch and PJ Media

Published in General/Features
The first international accord to end illegal fishing went into effect a few days ago in celebration of World Environment Day. The pact is now legally binding for the 29 countries and the European Union that have signed on to it, says the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO.
The Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, adopted as an FAO Agreement in 2009 after years of diplomatic effort, reached its activation threshold of 25 countries last month, triggering a 30-day countdown to today’s entry-into-force.

 

From now on, foreign fishing vessels wishing to enter ports in Port State signatory countries must request permission in advance, transmitting detailed information on their identities, activities, and the fish they have onboard. Landings can only happen at designated ports equipped for effective inspections.
If inspections turn up evidence of illicit fishing activity, vessels will be shut out of those ports and reported as violators.
“This is a great day in the continuing effort to build sustainable fisheries that can help feed the world,” said FAO Director-General Graziano da Silva. “We hail those countries that have already signed on to the agreement and who will begin implementing it as of today. We invite governments who have yet to do so, to join the collective push to stamp out illegal fishing and safeguard the future of our ocean resources.”
World Environment Day this year focuses on ending the illegal trade of all wildlife, not just fish.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC, released its inaugural World Wildlife Crime Report on May 24. This first report shows that 7,000 species were found illegally traded in more than 164,000 seizures affecting 120 countries.
UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov said, “The global nature of this crime compels us to stand united and to promote global solutions to halt the catastrophic poaching and trafficking of wildlife.”
“Our Wildlife Report is helping by providing a global assessment that will allow the international community to design effective and efficient solutions,” Fedotov said, stressing that wildlife crime deprives people of a sustainable livelihood. “These crimes are also closely connected to fraud, money laundering, human trafficking, corruption and brutal violence, among other crimes.”
John Scanlon, who heads the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, said, “This comprehensive global report is rooted in the best data and case studies available, is backed by in-depth analysis, and demonstrates a heightened sense of rigor in the way in which we report on wildlife crime.
“Future reports will benefit from more and better data, with CITES Parties to submit annual illegal trade reports starting in 2017,” said Scanlon. “Hundreds of additional species of animals and plants, including 250 tree species, are being considered for global protection under CITES at its 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to be held in Johannesburg later this year.”
On World Environment Day, the UN Environment Programme, UNEP, is encouraging everyone to “go wild for life” and take action to help safeguard species at risk for future generations.
“We have chosen this theme because damage from this trade has become so serious and so far reaching that urgent action is needed to reverse it,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner in a video message.

 

From now on, foreign fishing vessels wishing to enter ports in Port State signatory countries must request permission in advance, transmitting detailed information on their identities, activities, and the fish they have onboard. Landings can only happen at designated ports equipped for effective inspections.
If inspections turn up evidence of illicit fishing activity, vessels will be shut out of those ports and reported as violators.
“This is a great day in the continuing effort to build sustainable fisheries that can help feed the world,” said FAO Director-General Graziano da Silva. “We hail those countries that have already signed on to the agreement and who will begin implementing it as of today. We invite governments who have yet to do so, to join the collective push to stamp out illegal fishing and safeguard the future of our ocean resources.”
World Environment Day this year focuses on ending the illegal trade of all wildlife, not just fish.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC, released its inaugural World Wildlife Crime Report on May 24. This first report shows that 7,000 species were found illegally traded in more than 164,000 seizures affecting 120 countries.
UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov said, “The global nature of this crime compels us to stand united and to promote global solutions to halt the catastrophic poaching and trafficking of wildlife.”
“Our Wildlife Report is helping by providing a global assessment that will allow the international community to design effective and efficient solutions,” Fedotov said, stressing that wildlife crime deprives people of a sustainable livelihood. “These crimes are also closely connected to fraud, money laundering, human trafficking, corruption and brutal violence, among other crimes.”
John Scanlon, who heads the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, said, “This comprehensive global report is rooted in the best data and case studies available, is backed by in-depth analysis, and demonstrates a heightened sense of rigor in the way in which we report on wildlife crime.
“Future reports will benefit from more and better data, with CITES Parties to submit annual illegal trade reports starting in 2017,” said Scanlon. “Hundreds of additional species of animals and plants, including 250 tree species, are being considered for global protection under CITES at its 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to be held in Johannesburg later this year.”
On World Environment Day, the UN Environment Programme, UNEP, is encouraging everyone to “go wild for life” and take action to help safeguard species at risk for future generations.
“We have chosen this theme because damage from this trade has become so serious and so far reaching that urgent action is needed to reverse it,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner in a video message.

 

Published in Environment

SARASOTA, Fla. — The homeless so skillfully weave themselves into our urban landscapes that we sometimes don’t even notice they are with us. On Fort Myers Beach, they are easier to see since there is only one major thoroughfare – Estero Boulevard – and everyone is seen when they are on it. Everyday a steady trickle of homeless people walk to God’s Table at Chapel by the Sea to get a meal, some clean clothes and later hang out on the Lee Tran bench to smoke and converse. They are a fixure and some of them have been here so long we’d feel something was missing if we didn’t see them.

 
Fort Myers Beach is not the only place in Florida with a resident homeless population. Warm weather and a relatively rich and generous demographic of retired folks who can afford their homes near the water, make Florida a Meca for those who live on the streets of our communities.
While there is a general acceptance of the homeless here, elsewhere the way towns and cities treat these “hidden” residents is in flux.
Just a short drive away, in Sarasota an article was recently written about one homeless man - David Cross who has been on the streets so long that he is known as the “mayor.” For many years people going to and fro with their daily grind would see Cross sitting in Five Points Park, a greenway in the heart of this prosperous city.
Then the city decided to remove the park bench where he held daily court. Then the town’s wise fathers enacted a new panhandling ordinance making it illegal to beg for money in most areas around the city. And then, according to reports, “he was given a written infraction for sleeping outside.”
So, joining other homeless activists around the U.S., the 66-year-old Cross sued Sarasota, claiming the city is using the power of law and regulation to take his right to sleep and as his lawyers say “just exist.” By criminalizing homelessness, jurisdictions are making it punishable just to live without money or connections and that is just plain wrong, says Cross. And he is not alone in this view, the ACLU has taken several similar cases and there are also numerous social justice attorneys taking cases like his on a pro bono basis.
As Florida continues to grow and downtowns are revitalized, the homeless are increasingly viewed as conflicting with the ambiance of laid-back chic and stylized tropical living cachet sought by the influx of well-to-do retirees, tourists, working professionals and business owners. As once-blighted streets are renewed, many want the homeless gone and they are not above legislating that result. When the ongoing revitalization of FMB is complete it is likely that community will face similar issues and challenges in how they will treat the ever-present homeless population essentially living on Estero Boulevard in plain sight.
Meanwhile across America, cities continue to crackdown and enact wave after wave of new laws against panhandling, camping and other activities associated with homelessness. Authorities are mixed over how far social engineering can go, but most agree that such regulations do help preserve the renewed vitality, reduce crime, lower health problems and stop aberrant behaviors that trouble residents and disrupt the flow business.
 
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, conducted a study in over 187 cities that found between 2011 and 2014 “bans against sleeping in cars increased up 119 percent, laws against citywide camping went up 60 percent, anti-loitering laws climbed 35 percent and anti-begging or panhandling laws increased 25 percent.
Some legal actions became very controversial like the initiative in Miami that caused a minister to be arrested for distributing food to the homeless. Lee County residents will remember back in 2003-2007 when residents of Fort Myers Beach were sharply divided over allowing local churches to feed the homeless. Some felt it would attract a hard-core cadre of “bums” that would be a blight on the island community and others felt it was their “Christian duty” to provide for the less fortunate. In the end, the program – God’s Table – was allowed to operate but only after residents made it clear they did not want any public sleeping at the Church. God’s Table operates to this day providing for the Island’s homeless.
While the Beach may have partially embraced those living on the streets, other communities have made it illegal to sit or lie in public and, in one city, a ban on using blankets outdoors was passed though the law was eventually reversed after a strong outcry.
Cross and others who advocate for the homeless argue that passing laws making it harder to live in the only place available to many – public streets, is cruel and is a misguided attempt to sweep the homeless under the rug rather than addressing the root causes and finding a solution to the issue. To them, it further illustrates the well-publicized growing gap between America’s rich and poor.
“It’s not illegal to be homeless,” Cross said.
Over a decade ago, Sarasota was named the “Meanest City in America” by homeless advocates for the plethora of ordinances aimed at the homeless. Just an hour away from Lee County, the picturesque beach community has undergone several hard political fights between those who want the homeless gone and those that want to provide for them. It is a city that is seen by many as a test location in the battle between street poverty and Florida’s urban renaissance.
The city’s balmy weather has drawn a large homeless population. On the streets, the contrast between panhandlers shaking cups and shoppers clutching bags from upscale boutiques is jarring.
City officials deny the allegations in Cross’s lawsuit and say that the city has moved to a progressive approach on homelessness in recent years. Officials have created teams to engage the homeless, adopted a comprehensive plan to deal with homelessness and are looking to create new housing.
“We still have work to do but are making gradual progress,” City Manager Tom Barwin wrote in an email.
A nationwide fight

Homeless men and women bed down for the night outdoors in the alcoves of the Sarasota County Jail. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)
Similar legal fights are playing out across the nation as the homeless challenge anti-panhandling ordinances, anti-camping laws and the seizure of their belongings in sweeps.
In Virginia, more than a dozen homeless alcoholics represented by the Legal Aid Justice Center sued the state’s prosecutors in March, claiming Virginia’s “habitual drunkard” law criminalizes addiction among those on the street and violates their constitutional rights.
The law allows prosecutors to ask the courts to designate someone a “habitual drunkard” if they have been shown to have a drinking problem. After the designation, the person can be jailed if they are caught with alcohol. Prosecutors say the law keeps drunks off the street. They have used the designation in more than 1,200 cases in recent years.
In Hawaii, the city of Honolulu was in the news again last week. Last fall, lawyers filed suit against the city on behalf of a group of homeless people, in response to what the mayor called a “war on homelessness.” According to officials with the mayor’s office, the suit was prompted by complaints from residents and tourists who said the number of panhandlers and visible homeless had reached “epidemic” proportions. In response the city passed laws banning sitting and lying on sidewalks, erecting “temporary shelters” and closed parks at night and dismantled one of the nation’s largest homeless encampments.
“The lawsuit accused the city of illegally trashing medicine, identification papers and food storage during the sweep, leaving homeless children hungry. A settlement was recently reached that forbids the city from seizing certain items,” reported the Post.
From the perspective of social justice activists there have been some successes with the legal actions. When the homeless challenged broad anti-panhandling laws in Springfield, Ill., Oklahoma City, and Sacramento County, Calif., on grounds it violates freedom of speech grounds, the localities abrogated portions of their anti-homeless ordinances and in a few instances overturned the rules outright.
In response to the increase in laws aimed against the homeless and the ongoing legal battles across the Nation, The Obama administration has taken steps many see as supporting the social activists.
Just last August, the Justice Department filed a brief in a Boise, Idaho, lawsuit challenging that city’s camping ordinance. The case failed to reach a holding on the merits and was dismissed over an issue of standing, but federal attorneys argued that it was unconstitutional for police to cite the homeless for sleeping outdoors when there is insufficient shelter space. Since no ruling was ever made that considered these contentions it remains to be seen if this approach will sway courts in a future case.
Again, last fall, according to the Post, “the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that it would consider whether a municipality has implemented a strategy to prevent the criminalization of homelessness when awarding some grants.”
SARASOTA, Fla. — The homeless so skillfully weave themselves into our urban landscapes that we sometimes don’t even notice they are with us. On Fort Myers Beach, they are easier to see since there is only one major thoroughfare – Estero Boulevard – and everyone is seen when they are on it. Everyday a steady trickle of homeless people walk to God’s Table at Chapel by the Sea to get a meal, some clean clothes and later hang out on the Lee Tran bench to smoke and converse. They are a fixure and some of them have been here so long we’d feel something was missing if we didn’t see them.
 
Fort Myers Beach is not the only place in Florida with a resident homeless population. Warm weather and a relatively rich and generous demographic of retired folks who can afford their homes near the water, make Florida a Meca for those who live on the streets of our communities.
While there is a general acceptance of the homeless here, elsewhere the way towns and cities treat these “hidden” residents is in flux.
Just a short drive away, in Sarasota an article was recently written about one homeless man - David Cross who has been on the streets so long that he is known as the “mayor.” For many years people going to and fro with their daily grind would see Cross sitting in Five Points Park, a greenway in the heart of this prosperous city.
Then the city decided to remove the park bench where he held daily court. Then the town’s wise fathers enacted a new panhandling ordinance making it illegal to beg for money in most areas around the city. And then, according to reports, “he was given a written infraction for sleeping outside.”
So, joining other homeless activists around the U.S., the 66-year-old Cross sued Sarasota, claiming the city is using the power of law and regulation to take his right to sleep and as his lawyers say “just exist.” By criminalizing homelessness, jurisdictions are making it punishable just to live without money or connections and that is just plain wrong, says Cross. And he is not alone in this view, the ACLU has taken several similar cases and there are also numerous social justice attorneys taking cases like his on a pro bono basis.
As Florida continues to grow and downtowns are revitalized, the homeless are increasingly viewed as conflicting with the ambiance of laid-back chic and stylized tropical living cachet sought by the influx of well-to-do retirees, tourists, working professionals and business owners. As once-blighted streets are renewed, many want the homeless gone and they are not above legislating that result. When the ongoing revitalization of FMB is complete it is likely that community will face similar issues and challenges in how they will treat the ever-present homeless population essentially living on Estero Boulevard in plain sight.
Meanwhile across America, cities continue to crackdown and enact wave after wave of new laws against panhandling, camping and other activities associated with homelessness. Authorities are mixed over how far social engineering can go, but most agree that such regulations do help preserve the renewed vitality, reduce crime, lower health problems and stop aberrant behaviors that trouble residents and disrupt the flow business.
 
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, conducted a study in over 187 cities that found between 2011 and 2014 “bans against sleeping in cars increased up 119 percent, laws against citywide camping went up 60 percent, anti-loitering laws climbed 35 percent and anti-begging or panhandling laws increased 25 percent.
Some legal actions became very controversial like the initiative in Miami that caused a minister to be arrested for distributing food to the homeless. Lee County residents will remember back in 2003-2007 when residents of Fort Myers Beach were sharply divided over allowing local churches to feed the homeless. Some felt it would attract a hard-core cadre of “bums” that would be a blight on the island community and others felt it was their “Christian duty” to provide for the less fortunate. In the end, the program – God’s Table – was allowed to operate but only after residents made it clear they did not want any public sleeping at the Church. God’s Table operates to this day providing for the Island’s homeless.
While the Beach may have partially embraced those living on the streets, other communities have made it illegal to sit or lie in public and, in one city, a ban on using blankets outdoors was passed though the law was eventually reversed after a strong outcry.
Cross and others who advocate for the homeless argue that passing laws making it harder to live in the only place available to many – public streets, is cruel and is a misguided attempt to sweep the homeless under the rug rather than addressing the root causes and finding a solution to the issue. To them, it further illustrates the well-publicized growing gap between America’s rich and poor.
“It’s not illegal to be homeless,” Cross said.
Over a decade ago, Sarasota was named the “Meanest City in America” by homeless advocates for the plethora of ordinances aimed at the homeless. Just an hour away from Lee County, the picturesque beach community has undergone several hard political fights between those who want the homeless gone and those that want to provide for them. It is a city that is seen by many as a test location in the battle between street poverty and Florida’s urban renaissance.
The city’s balmy weather has drawn a large homeless population. On the streets, the contrast between panhandlers shaking cups and shoppers clutching bags from upscale boutiques is jarring.
City officials deny the allegations in Cross’s lawsuit and say that the city has moved to a progressive approach on homelessness in recent years. Officials have created teams to engage the homeless, adopted a comprehensive plan to deal with homelessness and are looking to create new housing.
“We still have work to do but are making gradual progress,” City Manager Tom Barwin wrote in an email.
A nationwide fight

Homeless men and women bed down for the night outdoors in the alcoves of the Sarasota County Jail. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)
Similar legal fights are playing out across the nation as the homeless challenge anti-panhandling ordinances, anti-camping laws and the seizure of their belongings in sweeps.
In Virginia, more than a dozen homeless alcoholics represented by the Legal Aid Justice Center sued the state’s prosecutors in March, claiming Virginia’s “habitual drunkard” law criminalizes addiction among those on the street and violates their constitutional rights.
The law allows prosecutors to ask the courts to designate someone a “habitual drunkard” if they have been shown to have a drinking problem. After the designation, the person can be jailed if they are caught with alcohol. Prosecutors say the law keeps drunks off the street. They have used the designation in more than 1,200 cases in recent years.
In Hawaii, the city of Honolulu was in the news again last week. Last fall, lawyers filed suit against the city on behalf of a group of homeless people, in response to what the mayor called a “war on homelessness.” According to officials with the mayor’s office, the suit was prompted by complaints from residents and tourists who said the number of panhandlers and visible homeless had reached “epidemic” proportions. In response the city passed laws banning sitting and lying on sidewalks, erecting “temporary shelters” and closed parks at night and dismantled one of the nation’s largest homeless encampments.
“The lawsuit accused the city of illegally trashing medicine, identification papers and food storage during the sweep, leaving homeless children hungry. A settlement was recently reached that forbids the city from seizing certain items,” reported the Post.
From the perspective of social justice activists there have been some successes with the legal actions. When the homeless challenged broad anti-panhandling laws in Springfield, Ill., Oklahoma City, and Sacramento County, Calif., on grounds it violates freedom of speech grounds, the localities abrogated portions of their anti-homeless ordinances and in a few instances overturned the rules outright.
In response to the increase in laws aimed against the homeless and the ongoing legal battles across the Nation, The Obama administration has taken steps many see as supporting the social activists.
Just last August, the Justice Department filed a brief in a Boise, Idaho, lawsuit challenging that city’s camping ordinance. The case failed to reach a holding on the merits and was dismissed over an issue of standing, but federal attorneys argued that it was unconstitutional for police to cite the homeless for sleeping outdoors when there is insufficient shelter space. Since no ruling was ever made that considered these contentions it remains to be seen if this approach will sway courts in a future case.
Again, last fall, according to the Post, “the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that it would consider whether a municipality has implemented a strategy to prevent the criminalization of homelessness when awarding some grants.”
SARASOTA, Fla. — The homeless so skillfully weave themselves into our urban landscapes that we sometimes don’t even notice they are with us. On Fort Myers Beach, they are easier to see since there is only one major thoroughfare – Estero Boulevard – and everyone is seen when they are on it. Everyday a steady trickle of homeless people walk to God’s Table at Chapel by the Sea to get a meal, some clean clothes and later hang out on the Lee Tran bench to smoke and converse. They are a fixure and some of them have been here so long we’d feel something was missing if we didn’t see them.
 
Fort Myers Beach is not the only place in Florida with a resident homeless population. Warm weather and a relatively rich and generous demographic of retired folks who can afford their homes near the water, make Florida a Meca for those who live on the streets of our communities.
While there is a general acceptance of the homeless here, elsewhere the way towns and cities treat these “hidden” residents is in flux.
Just a short drive away, in Sarasota an article was recently written about one homeless man - David Cross who has been on the streets so long that he is known as the “mayor.” For many years people going to and fro with their daily grind would see Cross sitting in Five Points Park, a greenway in the heart of this prosperous city.
Then the city decided to remove the park bench where he held daily court. Then the town’s wise fathers enacted a new panhandling ordinance making it illegal to beg for money in most areas around the city. And then, according to reports, “he was given a written infraction for sleeping outside.”
So, joining other homeless activists around the U.S., the 66-year-old Cross sued Sarasota, claiming the city is using the power of law and regulation to take his right to sleep and as his lawyers say “just exist.” By criminalizing homelessness, jurisdictions are making it punishable just to live without money or connections and that is just plain wrong, says Cross. And he is not alone in this view, the ACLU has taken several similar cases and there are also numerous social justice attorneys taking cases like his on a pro bono basis.
As Florida continues to grow and downtowns are revitalized, the homeless are increasingly viewed as conflicting with the ambiance of laid-back chic and stylized tropical living cachet sought by the influx of well-to-do retirees, tourists, working professionals and business owners. As once-blighted streets are renewed, many want the homeless gone and they are not above legislating that result. When the ongoing revitalization of FMB is complete it is likely that community will face similar issues and challenges in how they will treat the ever-present homeless population essentially living on Estero Boulevard in plain sight.
Meanwhile across America, cities continue to crackdown and enact wave after wave of new laws against panhandling, camping and other activities associated with homelessness. Authorities are mixed over how far social engineering can go, but most agree that such regulations do help preserve the renewed vitality, reduce crime, lower health problems and stop aberrant behaviors that trouble residents and disrupt the flow business.
 
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, conducted a study in over 187 cities that found between 2011 and 2014 “bans against sleeping in cars increased up 119 percent, laws against citywide camping went up 60 percent, anti-loitering laws climbed 35 percent and anti-begging or panhandling laws increased 25 percent.
Some legal actions became very controversial like the initiative in Miami that caused a minister to be arrested for distributing food to the homeless. Lee County residents will remember back in 2003-2007 when residents of Fort Myers Beach were sharply divided over allowing local churches to feed the homeless. Some felt it would attract a hard-core cadre of “bums” that would be a blight on the island community and others felt it was their “Christian duty” to provide for the less fortunate. In the end, the program – God’s Table – was allowed to operate but only after residents made it clear they did not want any public sleeping at the Church. God’s Table operates to this day providing for the Island’s homeless.
While the Beach may have partially embraced those living on the streets, other communities have made it illegal to sit or lie in public and, in one city, a ban on using blankets outdoors was passed though the law was eventually reversed after a strong outcry.
Cross and others who advocate for the homeless argue that passing laws making it harder to live in the only place available to many – public streets, is cruel and is a misguided attempt to sweep the homeless under the rug rather than addressing the root causes and finding a solution to the issue. To them, it further illustrates the well-publicized growing gap between America’s rich and poor.
“It’s not illegal to be homeless,” Cross said.
Over a decade ago, Sarasota was named the “Meanest City in America” by homeless advocates for the plethora of ordinances aimed at the homeless. Just an hour away from Lee County, the picturesque beach community has undergone several hard political fights between those who want the homeless gone and those that want to provide for them. It is a city that is seen by many as a test location in the battle between street poverty and Florida’s urban renaissance.
The city’s balmy weather has drawn a large homeless population. On the streets, the contrast between panhandlers shaking cups and shoppers clutching bags from upscale boutiques is jarring.
City officials deny the allegations in Cross’s lawsuit and say that the city has moved to a progressive approach on homelessness in recent years. Officials have created teams to engage the homeless, adopted a comprehensive plan to deal with homelessness and are looking to create new housing.
“We still have work to do but are making gradual progress,” City Manager Tom Barwin wrote in an email.
A nationwide fight

Homeless men and women bed down for the night outdoors in the alcoves of the Sarasota County Jail. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)
Similar legal fights are playing out across the nation as the homeless challenge anti-panhandling ordinances, anti-camping laws and the seizure of their belongings in sweeps.
In Virginia, more than a dozen homeless alcoholics represented by the Legal Aid Justice Center sued the state’s prosecutors in March, claiming Virginia’s “habitual drunkard” law criminalizes addiction among those on the street and violates their constitutional rights.
The law allows prosecutors to ask the courts to designate someone a “habitual drunkard” if they have been shown to have a drinking problem. After the designation, the person can be jailed if they are caught with alcohol. Prosecutors say the law keeps drunks off the street. They have used the designation in more than 1,200 cases in recent years.
In Hawaii, the city of Honolulu was in the news again last week. Last fall, lawyers filed suit against the city on behalf of a group of homeless people, in response to what the mayor called a “war on homelessness.” According to officials with the mayor’s office, the suit was prompted by complaints from residents and tourists who said the number of panhandlers and visible homeless had reached “epidemic” proportions. In response the city passed laws banning sitting and lying on sidewalks, erecting “temporary shelters” and closed parks at night and dismantled one of the nation’s largest homeless encampments.
“The lawsuit accused the city of illegally trashing medicine, identification papers and food storage during the sweep, leaving homeless children hungry. A settlement was recently reached that forbids the city from seizing certain items,” reported the Post.
From the perspective of social justice activists there have been some successes with the legal actions. When the homeless challenged broad anti-panhandling laws in Springfield, Ill., Oklahoma City, and Sacramento County, Calif., on grounds it violates freedom of speech grounds, the localities abrogated portions of their anti-homeless ordinances and in a few instances overturned the rules outright.
In response to the increase in laws aimed against the homeless and the ongoing legal battles across the Nation, The Obama administration has taken steps many see as supporting the social activists.
Just last August, the Justice Department filed a brief in a Boise, Idaho, lawsuit challenging that city’s camping ordinance. The case failed to reach a holding on the merits and was dismissed over an issue of standing, but federal attorneys argued that it was unconstitutional for police to cite the homeless for sleeping outdoors when there is insufficient shelter space. Since no ruling was ever made that considered these contentions it remains to be seen if this approach will sway courts in a future case.
Again, last fall, according to the Post, “the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that it would consider whether a municipality has implemented a strategy to prevent the criminalization of homelessness when awarding some grants.”
SARASOTA, Fla. — The homeless so skillfully weave themselves into our urban landscapes that we sometimes don’t even notice they are with us. On Fort Myers Beach, they are easier to see since there is only one major thoroughfare – Estero Boulevard – and everyone is seen when they are on it. Everyday a steady trickle of homeless people walk to God’s Table at Chapel by the Sea to get a meal, some clean clothes and later hang out on the Lee Tran bench to smoke and converse. They are a fixure and some of them have been here so long we’d feel something was missing if we didn’t see them.
 
Fort Myers Beach is not the only place in Florida with a resident homeless population. Warm weather and a relatively rich and generous demographic of retired folks who can afford their homes near the water, make Florida a Meca for those who live on the streets of our communities.
While there is a general acceptance of the homeless here, elsewhere the way towns and cities treat these “hidden” residents is in flux.
Just a short drive away, in Sarasota an article was recently written about one homeless man - David Cross who has been on the streets so long that he is known as the “mayor.” For many years people going to and fro with their daily grind would see Cross sitting in Five Points Park, a greenway in the heart of this prosperous city.
Then the city decided to remove the park bench where he held daily court. Then the town’s wise fathers enacted a new panhandling ordinance making it illegal to beg for money in most areas around the city. And then, according to reports, “he was given a written infraction for sleeping outside.”
So, joining other homeless activists around the U.S., the 66-year-old Cross sued Sarasota, claiming the city is using the power of law and regulation to take his right to sleep and as his lawyers say “just exist.” By criminalizing homelessness, jurisdictions are making it punishable just to live without money or connections and that is just plain wrong, says Cross. And he is not alone in this view, the ACLU has taken several similar cases and there are also numerous social justice attorneys taking cases like his on a pro bono basis.
As Florida continues to grow and downtowns are revitalized, the homeless are increasingly viewed as conflicting with the ambiance of laid-back chic and stylized tropical living cachet sought by the influx of well-to-do retirees, tourists, working professionals and business owners. As once-blighted streets are renewed, many want the homeless gone and they are not above legislating that result. When the ongoing revitalization of FMB is complete it is likely that community will face similar issues and challenges in how they will treat the ever-present homeless population essentially living on Estero Boulevard in plain sight.
Meanwhile across America, cities continue to crackdown and enact wave after wave of new laws against panhandling, camping and other activities associated with homelessness. Authorities are mixed over how far social engineering can go, but most agree that such regulations do help preserve the renewed vitality, reduce crime, lower health problems and stop aberrant behaviors that trouble residents and disrupt the flow business.
 
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, conducted a study in over 187 cities that found between 2011 and 2014 “bans against sleeping in cars increased up 119 percent, laws against citywide camping went up 60 percent, anti-loitering laws climbed 35 percent and anti-begging or panhandling laws increased 25 percent.
Some legal actions became very controversial like the initiative in Miami that caused a minister to be arrested for distributing food to the homeless. Lee County residents will remember back in 2003-2007 when residents of Fort Myers Beach were sharply divided over allowing local churches to feed the homeless. Some felt it would attract a hard-core cadre of “bums” that would be a blight on the island community and others felt it was their “Christian duty” to provide for the less fortunate. In the end, the program – God’s Table – was allowed to operate but only after residents made it clear they did not want any public sleeping at the Church. God’s Table operates to this day providing for the Island’s homeless.
While the Beach may have partially embraced those living on the streets, other communities have made it illegal to sit or lie in public and, in one city, a ban on using blankets outdoors was passed though the law was eventually reversed after a strong outcry.
Cross and others who advocate for the homeless argue that passing laws making it harder to live in the only place available to many – public streets, is cruel and is a misguided attempt to sweep the homeless under the rug rather than addressing the root causes and finding a solution to the issue. To them, it further illustrates the well-publicized growing gap between America’s rich and poor.
“It’s not illegal to be homeless,” Cross said.
Over a decade ago, Sarasota was named the “Meanest City in America” by homeless advocates for the plethora of ordinances aimed at the homeless. Just an hour away from Lee County, the picturesque beach community has undergone several hard political fights between those who want the homeless gone and those that want to provide for them. It is a city that is seen by many as a test location in the battle between street poverty and Florida’s urban renaissance.
The city’s balmy weather has drawn a large homeless population. On the streets, the contrast between panhandlers shaking cups and shoppers clutching bags from upscale boutiques is jarring.
City officials deny the allegations in Cross’s lawsuit and say that the city has moved to a progressive approach on homelessness in recent years. Officials have created teams to engage the homeless, adopted a comprehensive plan to deal with homelessness and are looking to create new housing.
“We still have work to do but are making gradual progress,” City Manager Tom Barwin wrote in an email.
A nationwide fight

Homeless men and women bed down for the night outdoors in the alcoves of the Sarasota County Jail. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)
Similar legal fights are playing out across the nation as the homeless challenge anti-panhandling ordinances, anti-camping laws and the seizure of their belongings in sweeps.
In Virginia, more than a dozen homeless alcoholics represented by the Legal Aid Justice Center sued the state’s prosecutors in March, claiming Virginia’s “habitual drunkard” law criminalizes addiction among those on the street and violates their constitutional rights.
The law allows prosecutors to ask the courts to designate someone a “habitual drunkard” if they have been shown to have a drinking problem. After the designation, the person can be jailed if they are caught with alcohol. Prosecutors say the law keeps drunks off the street. They have used the designation in more than 1,200 cases in recent years.
In Hawaii, the city of Honolulu was in the news again last week. Last fall, lawyers filed suit against the city on behalf of a group of homeless people, in response to what the mayor called a “war on homelessness.” According to officials with the mayor’s office, the suit was prompted by complaints from residents and tourists who said the number of panhandlers and visible homeless had reached “epidemic” proportions. In response the city passed laws banning sitting and lying on sidewalks, erecting “temporary shelters” and closed parks at night and dismantled one of the nation’s largest homeless encampments.
“The lawsuit accused the city of illegally trashing medicine, identification papers and food storage during the sweep, leaving homeless children hungry. A settlement was recently reached that forbids the city from seizing certain items,” reported the Post.
From the perspective of social justice activists there have been some successes with the legal actions. When the homeless challenged broad anti-panhandling laws in Springfield, Ill., Oklahoma City, and Sacramento County, Calif., on grounds it violates freedom of speech grounds, the localities abrogated portions of their anti-homeless ordinances and in a few instances overturned the rules outright.
In response to the increase in laws aimed against the homeless and the ongoing legal battles across the Nation, The Obama administration has taken steps many see as supporting the social activists.
Just last August, the Justice Department filed a brief in a Boise, Idaho, lawsuit challenging that city’s camping ordinance. The case failed to reach a holding on the merits and was dismissed over an issue of standing, but federal attorneys argued that it was unconstitutional for police to cite the homeless for sleeping outdoors when there is insufficient shelter space. Since no ruling was ever made that considered these contentions it remains to be seen if this approach will sway courts in a future case.
Again, last fall, according to the Post, “the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that it would consider whether a municipality has implemented a strategy to prevent the criminalization of homelessness when awarding some grants.”
Soto has taken a pro-active approach to address what he says is a “bad problem for the city’s image. He also says there are those who think helping more will eradicate homelessness but based on what he says is “firsthand knowledge” – watching the street people every day –there is a dark side to their existence. To heighten awareness of the problems he has created a series of signs. One of them reads: “DON’T GIVE IN TO PANHANDLING...93% OF THE MONEY YOU GIVE GOES TO DRUGS & ALCOHOL.”
Some businesses are happy to display the signs, and Soto told the Post that he is “planning to pay people to hand out anti-panhandling fliers in hot spots for homelessness and collect money to give to established programs that help the homeless.”
“We are one of the most enabling towns in Florida,” Soto said.
On the other side of the issue, is Cross who says the City needs to do more to help those caught in a vicious cycle of poverty and anguish. He said he “hopes his lawsuit makes Sarasota officials take action.”
He said he’d like to see the city build a downtown emergency shelter. This was recommended by a consultant the city had hired in 2013. That project got bogged down in politics particularly over where the shelter would be built. One of the most difficult problems to address whenever building a new shelter is mentioned is that while most will superficially say they support the idea, most politicians not want it in the districts where their constituents live.
“It’s getting the city to do something,” Cross said of the lawsuit.
Meanwhile on Fort Myers Beach in Lee County, God’s Table continues to provide a wide array of services to the homeless and the community seems to be in stark contrast to Sarasota.
Published in Lifestyle
Tuesday, 14 June 2016 15:00

Unsung Heroes of Fort Myers Beach

Memorial Day weekend is an enormous holiday, attracting thousands of local residents to enjoy a beautiful day on Fort Myers Beach. Managing the influx of visitors at Lani Kai Island Resort is a challenging task requiring the coordination of dozens of employees in order to provide the best experience possible for guests. This past Memorial Day weekend involved a potential tragedy that was avoided due to the excellent response of Lani Kai’s staff.
 
As Staff Member Kevin Hamm made his scheduled safety checks around the Lani Kai Island Resort property, he saw something was very wrong by the pool area. Several people enjoying the pool failed to notice that a 2 year old girl had fallen into the pool and had been underwater for several minutes. Hamm investigated what he believed was someone underwater in the pool, discovered the girl’s body and immediately had her pulled from the pool. As Hamm called 911, a little boy who was the girl’s brother ran to the beach bar screaming “Help! My sister’s not breathing!”
 
At that moment, Wind and Water sports employees Joey Davis and Justin Vega jumped into action. At a dead sprint from the bar to the pool area, Davis and Vega discovered the girl, surrounded by people, hardly breathing and with a weak pulse. Both Davis and Vega assessed her condition immediately and started administering CPR procedure until the girl started to breath normally again. 
 
"I have trained for these types of situations and I am thankful that when I was actually involved in this situation that I knew what to do" Justin Vega responded.
 
After 300-400 CPR compressions, a Lee County Sheriff arrived with an EMT team and rushed the little girl to a local hospital.
 
“We were happy to be at the right place at the right time to do what we can do.” Joey Davis responded. “It’s a miracle that we were able to resuscitate her.”
 
"Words cannot describe how proud I am of Joey and Justin.  The heroic act they performed  saved the life of that young girl" stated Rob Ramadon, owner of Wind and Water Sports
 
Tasked with enforcing several rules in order to ensure guest safety, our Staff  Team covers dozens of roles including security, safety, information, communication, and direction of visitors on property. Many staff members are local residents, some have served in the military, and all are experienced with managing crowds of people and guest safety.
 
“Our staff is the reason that a young girl survived a potential tragedy” said Michael Ensor, Marketing Director at Lani Kai Island Resort. “We have an amazing team to thank - Kevin Hamm, Joey Davis and Justin Vega saved this little girl’s life.”
 
All three employees involved in the heroic rescue and resuscitation efforts are being nominated for an E-Award. E Awards honors excellence through extraordinary service and dedication in the hospitality industry.
 
“The goal of nominating an employee for an  E-Award is to increase public awareness of the outstanding customer service being provided by hospitality professionals in Lee County.” stated Ensor. “We are very lucky to have heroes on our team that put forth 110% for our guests and they will be celebrated for their efforts.”
 
All nominated employees are recognized at the annual E Awards breakfast in September as an Elaine McLaughlin Outstanding Hospitality Service Awards winner. A winner in each category will be announced with the Honor of Distinction awarded to one nominee who best represents the Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel spirit of extraordinary customer service.
 
“We welcome families from all around the world to enjoy our beaches.” Ensor said. “As thousands flock to the beach to enjoy fun in the sun, it’s important to keep your young children in sight. Meanwhile, our staff will remain vigilant 365 days a year to ensure that our guests are enjoying our beach safely”.
 
The YMCA has pointed out how fast an incident can happen with a young child. If you cross a room for a towel (10 sec), a child in a bathtub can be submerged. Answering the phone (2 min), a child can lose consciousness. Signing for a package at the front door (4-6 min), a child submerged in a tub or pool can sustain permanent brain damage.
 
“I’m so happy the little girl is ok and would love a chance to meet her, speak with her, and give her the Elmo doll that I have for her” Hamm added.
 
“We are hoping to have a reunion with the family and little girl who has been on all of our employees’ minds and hearts.” Ensor included.
 
The family of the young girl who survived the potential drowning has not been available for comment at this time. If anyone is in contact with the family, please ask the family to contact Lani Kai Island Resort at 239-463-3111 and ask to speak with Michael Ensor.
Published in General/Features

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