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Community Fights For Fencing To Keep Homeless, Sex Offenders From Living Under Bridges

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FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – For months residents in a Fort Lauderdale community say they dealt with two major issues -- a group of sex offenders and a group of homeless people living under bridges near their homes causing problems. Now, those residents say they're getting the help they need from state and local officials.

The residents say their complaints prompted the Florida Department of Transportation to spend nearly $25-thousand dollars installing hundreds of feet of barbed wire fencing like this around three bridges here near I-595 and 441. Residents say they believe the fencing has made a big difference in their quality of life.

A CBS 4 viewer sent us pictures showing people living and sleeping under bridges near I-595 and 441 along a canal near Fort Lauderdale. The viewer says one picture shows a pile of garbage those people left behind near their Lauderdale Isles neighborhood known for boating and a relaxing lifestyle.

Dirk Lowry is the president of the civic association. He says some of the people who camped out under the overpasses made life miserable for residents and their kids.

"We had two specific incidents where these gentlemen exposed themselves to women and children," Lowry told CBS 4's Carey Codd.

Lowry says whoever has been staying here, they're doing unpleasant things.

"They've been urinating on the streets," Lowry said. "That's been observed. In the river, defecating in the river. You get young lady's on the paddle board's going by, they harass them, throw things at them."

CLICK HERE to watch Carey Codd's report

Records from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reveal that at least 4 registered sexual offenders gave this area as their address to state officials, confirming that they either currently reside here or did recently. Lowry says one concerned resident pushed the issue all the way to Tallahassee. He said that led to barbed wire fencing going in and since then most of the problems have stopped.

"There's been a little feeling of security at this point," Lowry explained.

Aside from the concern over sex offenders, resident Anker Pearce says another issue was a group of homeless people living in Riverland Woods Park just feet from homes, drinking being loud all hours of the night and even nearly setting off bonfires near homes. Pearce says the city of Fort Lauderdale removed a lot of overgrown vegetation and planted trees and palm trees. He says things are quieter now.

"Now that the community came together and started putting pressure on the various government agencies, they're finally compelled to act, which they did and they eliminated the attractiveness which returned quiet to our neighborhood," he said.

Homeless advocate Robin Martin of Hope South Florida says he understands the concerns of residents. However, he says issues like these in Riverland Woods Park and the surrounding area point out that the entire community needs to help solve Broward's homeless problem.

"We have to find a way to live and coexist in a meaningful but safe manner," Martin said. "This issue is bigger than just the county alone. And it's bigger than any one city. We all need to come together and address it."

Martin suggests the community get involved in outreach to assist the homeless or support agencies who are working to end homelessness.

Residents here tell me they understand that it's not a crime to be homeless and they agree that more should be done to help those who need it. But they say laws were being broken and this fencing is helping to keep their community safer.

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