War has been declared on trash in North Fort Myers, especially in areas where people who are homeless congregate.
A recently completed operation with community deputies focused on picking up trash from vacant homeless camps throughout the area, thanks to the help of area youths.
In coordination with the Department of Juvenile Justice, youths serving probation or other court-ordered service filled 107 bags with trash and pieces of dilapidated furniture.
Lt. Larry King, Lee County Sheriff's Office spokesperson, said action was taken after residents complained about the condition of their neighborhoods, thanks to the work of several agencies.
"We kept getting complaints from residents about the trash and we told them they needed to get out within 24 to 48 hours or they would be issued a warning," said Deputy Crystal Watkins. "Many of them did. Hopefully, they didn't find a new wooded area."
"We worked close with the Homeless Coalition. It's an ongoing thing. You get help and assistance and then others come in," King said. "We're trying to keep things neat up there, and create the best quality of life and help those who want to be helped."
King said the primary focus was in the homeless camps throughout the area, such as an area off of Business 41, and a couple off of Bayshore, the Del Prado extension, and off Diplomat Parkway near Merchant's Crossing.
King said it takes a cooperative effort from citizens and the homeless organizations who are trying to reach people who live in the camps.
"There are lots that are undeveloped and heavily wooded that allow that type of activity to take place," King said. "We work on information when people see things suspicious and identify them."
The effort complements an initiative aimed at educating the homeless population on viable legal resources available to them, such as hot food, shelter, grooming and counseling.
It also seeks to discourage illegal behavior such as squatting, public intoxication and abusing controlled substances.
"We don't want to be confrontational. We have a lot of venues that offer assistance in helping people out," King said.
And it was the help of those in the juvenile court system that got the littered areas clean again, allowing those to get their community service hours completed.
"It not only meets their court-appointed responsibilities but also gives them a sense of fulfillment," King said. "It's a visual they can look at and say 'Wow, what a difference.'"
"It's a win-win. The kids get their community service hours and they get to see what their efforts brought," Watkins said. "They should be very proud of themselves."
The goal of the Lee County Sheriff's Office is to empower the homeless population to gain the assistance they need.
The clean-up effort was a huge success and restored the community parks to a condition that will allow families to utilize them for their intended purpose, officials said.