28280 Old 41 Road
BONITA SPRINGS — The fight for a homeless facility in Bonita Springs is getting personal.
Vann Ellison, president and chief executive officer of St. Matthew’s House, which has an East Naples location and is proposing a Bonita Springs homeless facility, has received personal threats, according to Collier County Sheriff’s Office reports. Bonita Springs Mayor Ben Nelson has also received threatening letters.
Anonymous letters, e-mails and a blocked phone call to Ellison has given the vindictive battle against the proposed facility on Old 41 Road negative momentum.
“We know where you live,” one anonymous letter received by Ellison said. “How are your boys?”
Fearing for his family’s safety, Ellison filed an official report with the Sheriff’s Office on Jan. 25.
A St. Matthew’s House in Bonita Springs is far from a reality. The Bonita Springs Zoning Board and eventually the Bonita Springs City Council would need to approve the proposal on the former site of Causeway Lumber at 28280 Old 41 Road. Ellison hasn’t yet submitted his zoning application. Last week, more than 250 residents showed up at a debate to hear the pros and cons of a potential homeless facility in the city.
With the “ongoing” threats, Ellison said, he has educated his four boys on how to react if someone approaches them suspiciously.
“Most people on the other side are honest people,” Ellison said about the few dissenting community members. “They’re just afraid. They will not hurt my family and kids.”
Ellison said this also happened to board members of St. Matthew’s House when the East Naples location was being considered more than 20 years ago.
While this particular letter was sent through standard mail, Ellison said he and his wife also have received threatening e-mails. In one anonymous e-mail, the resident stated his or her home was about 1,000 feet away from the proposed site.
It had been reported that a group of residents in Spanish Wells were angry about the proposed facility, which would be adjacent to their community.
Mayor Nelson has also turned over hateful letters and e-mails to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. Nelson explained that one particular letter he received addressed the concern over potential robberies in the gated Spanish Wells community. According to Nelson, the anonymous letter writer said, “we are armed and will protect our property with deadly force.”
Nelson said the individual posed the following hypothetical: “…some residents will feel so worked up about this, they may even start shooting people that are walking down the street and don’t belong there.”
Nelson also said he, like Ellison, has been the target of personal threats.
“If you vote for this thing,” the ransom-looking letter said without a return address to Nelson. “We will see to it that your career is over and your wife’s too.”
Nelson calls these threats simply a “contest of emotion with very few facts and figures coming to the surface.” Nelson, a longtime resident of the city and a council member since its inception, is also disappointed with the reaction some have had in the community.
“I haven’t been threatened by homeless people,” Nelson said. “Who are the people we are supposed to be afraid of? Kind of interesting.”