Since the last column two weeks ago, I’ve heard from so many, many people about Tent City, and I thank you for that. It is much better to react to the wishes of the community rather than depend on our own thoughts. The outpouring of advice has been wonderful. All of the letters had the same response, but in different levels of concern. Actually, I didn’t receive one note or letter that said, “Yes, go forward with it.” A friend of mine and I went to see the gentleman, Joe Valentini at Helps Outreach, to view what his group does and how they do it. (I wanted my friend there to make sure I didn’t misinterpret what I heard.) He said there were a lot of homeless in the north end of Collier who can’t get to St. Matthews House, or do not want to be in a structured environment, which is why he teamed up with Catholic Charities to try to create a Tent City. He said they didn’t have a definite location, but they were looking at land along U.S. 41 E, between Collier Boulevard and Port of the Islands. I pointed out that we had enough homeless in this area of the county and places to care for those who wanted a shelter. He mentioned he knew that property values fall when there is a Tent City, and he knew no one would like that, but he felt they needed to get beyond that. I told him that this area of town is just recovering from all the shelters, low income, and not for profits that have called this home, and that we would prefer to try to continue to improve our community and bring it up to a better quality of life, which we are now doing. He referred to Pinellas County again, and said how well they are doing. I told him that some folks had suggested that Tent City should investigate Ave Maria, where there is lots of land beyond the outskirts, and plenty of volunteers from the Catholic community available. He didn’t seem to respond to that suggestion though. We also suggested teaming up with an agricultural farmer; tents in the back out of sight, and work to be done. He seemed more favorable to that idea but was more focused on this area, yet he could see I did not agree with him. If a Tent City were created, we would draw from all the surrounding counties in the five county area. Do we really want to do that? As the sheriff’s office has stated, 95% of the homeless are mentally ill and really need a rehab facility to help them, to provide medications, detox them, etc. Although Mr. Valentini knew of the crime that homeless are involved with, he truly wanted to help them. I told him we don’t need to attract any more homeless to this area by providing another homeless shelter, albeit a Tent City. I truly believe it would harm our way of life. Mr. Valentini and his wife are dedicated people who have a passion for helping the underprivileged. I respect that, but I don’t think our county needs to invite more of those from other parts of the state. Most of our homeless are from out of our area anyway. They know we are a kind and generous community, so they come here; but when is enough, enough?
• Hopefully some of you come out to enjoy a few pickleball games during the first ever U. S. Open Pickleball Tournament. Players are coming from 39 states and seven countries! The events are going on now through Sunday, May 1st at the East Naples Community Park located at 3500 Thomasson Road next to Avalon Elementary School. Thomasson is the extension south of Rattlesnake Hammock Road. The transformation to that park is a miracle! There are hundreds of players there every day. There are 48 sparkling new pickleball courts. There is a “center stage” for the best-of-the-best competition. Minto Communities is the major sponsor. Tito’s Vodka is another sponsor, so for the first time ever, we will allow vodka in the park…for this event only. CBS Sports Network will have their production company on site, and it will air a couple of weeks later.
There are all levels of players, but I think you’ll see the best of the best showing us how it is done. The games begin at 8 AM, and even though the competition will stop around 8 PM, players will still enjoy the game until about 9 PM. The county has imported bleachers from other parks and other places. There isn’t a lot of shade from the sun, so make sure you apply plenty of heavy duty sunscreen and bring a hat! There will be Kiwanis volunteers to direct the cars to parking areas and provide shuttles if needed. Food and beverage vendors will be in place. The core group team has been the hardest working individuals I’ve ever met. Jim and Carol Ludwig, the catalyst couple, have worked endlessly, along with Terri Graham and Chris Evon to make this event happen. There were over 200 volunteers practicing their roles at the volunteer meeting. This is the biggest event (outside of golf) that has hit this area in many years. We are all so proud to be hosting all of the players from all over the world. This is big time, folks!