FORT LAUDERDALE (CBS4) – Stranahan Park is Fort Lauderdale’s front porch, it’s the first thing you see as you enter the heart of downtown. It’s named after the city founders and is considered to be a serene tropical park. But just a few months ago, it was an eyesore, with the homeless sprawled out on the grass with all their possessions.
“We would use the library, hang out in the park until your time came up,” said homeless man Mandred Zaepernick. “Also, it was advantageous for people to come and feed us.”
Neighboring businesses complained customers were scared off by panhandling and much worse, like this gross example from a restaurant manager, talking about a run in with a homeless man.
“He just pooped!” said Café Verdi restaurant manger Javier Moran. ”Right there on the sidewalk?” asked CBS 4’s Ted Scouten. “Yes,” he said. “And all the flies came.”
Thanks to 70 thousand dollars in donations and grants, 350 volunteers, and the Fort Lauderdale Woman’s Club, the park was transformed. Not only did that spruce up the place – but it left less room for people to lie around all day – not to mention – lounging among the cactus is not too comfortable. Right now the homeless that are left stay off the grass and out of the plants. “Some rangers tell you get off the grass, others rangers tell you ‘no,’” said Zaepernick. “So there’s …we don’t have a set of rules to go by, it changes daily so you have to go with the flow.”
“We’re not simply trying to throw the homeless out of the park,” explains Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler. “That was never our intent.”
Seiler says the push now is to get the homeless help – get them into treatment that will keep them out of the park – and put them into a home and job instead. “What we’re hoping they’ll do is that if there’s a homeless veteran, he’ll get with the veteran’s administration,” he said. “If there’s a homeless individual as a result of domestic violence, they’re over there with women in distress or kids in distress.”
There is still more landscaping that has to be done before the project is complete. The next volunteer project is August 4. Everyone is invited to help out.