Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Property owner requests shutdown of homeless camp

Deputies arrest four for trespassing

PORT CHARLOTTE -- Four homeless people will now be served three meals a day and have beds to sleep in -- at least until they make bail.

At the request of a property owner, Charlotte County Sheriff's deputies made four arrests Tuesday for trespassing after warning at a homeless campsite in Port Charlotte.

At the request of Mango Development Group, which owns a 40-acre tract at 19530 Cochran Blvd., deputies issued the trespassers citations on Thanksgiving and told them to leave the wooded area near Home Depot.

On Tuesday, the deputies returned to the area on three different occasions during the day and found the same four people living there.

They charged Timothy Milton Peters, 49; Gary Dewayne Cooper, 48; David Alan Carr, 44; and Mary Joanne Johnson, 39; with trespassing after warning and took them to the Charlotte County Jail, where they all remained Wednesday on $1,000 bonds each. Carr was also charged with an outstanding warrant for violation of probation for criminal mischief.

In the report, deputies said the group had established residency on the property and "created a mess by littering a camping area."

The property is worth $7,760,649, according to the Charlotte County Property Appraiser's Web site. Representatives of Mango Development, which is based in Sarasota, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Charlotte County Sheriff's spokesman Bob Carpenter said the homeless problem is one that affects the whole county.

"If there is a complaint, we have to react to it," he said Wednesday. "We aren't the bad guys in this. We warned them once."

Carpenter said the Sheriff's Office has received several complaints about the homeless camp from other business owners in the area but unless the property owner files the complaint, there is little they can do.

Ian Ocasio, street outreach worker with the Charlotte County Homeless Coalition, said the homeless population has grown rapidly since Hurricane Charley.

"I know of at least 65 people who are living in areas not meant for human habitation," he said Wednesday.

The coalition is building a 52-person shelter that is expected to be finished in July 2007.

"That will help the situation some," Ocasio said.

One of the problems, according to Ocasio, is when homeless people are told to relocate, they don't have anywhere to go or the means to move.

"One of the men who was arrested (Tuesday) is disabled," he said. "He can barely walk."

Ocasio said the previous land owners of the 40-acre tract were more tolerant of the homeless who would stay there. He said the Sheriff's Office is just doing its job, but all that's happening is that taxpayers are paying to house them.

"They are just warehousing the poorest of the poor and the mentally ill, and they are the first ones to tell you they are tired of it," he said. "Our jails are filled with nonviolent, mentally ill and poor people."

Funding is needed to help build more shelters, Ocasio said, but that in itself is a huge hurdle.

"Animal shelters get more funding than we do," he said. "We barely have enough money to put gas in our vans."

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