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Homelessness Along Osceola County's Tourism Corridor: A Perspective From US-192

Community Hope Center Executive Director Mary Downey stands by the organization's "vision board," where goals for 2014 are displayed

Osceola County has one of the highest numbers of homeless families in the country, according to a recent report commissioned by county officials. And in an area dominated by the tourism industry, homelessness can present itself in unexpected ways.

Many of these families are staying off the streets by squeezing into a room at one of the motels lining US-192, a busy tourist corridor. But now, most of the tourists that come to visit the theme parks nearby stay at the newer hotels on the park’s property.

Tension is building between the motel owners, who want their rooms open for thrifty visitors, and the families, who are stuck in a financial position that makes it difficult to save up for deposits on a place of their own.

Into the space between steps Mary Downey, Executive Director of Community Hope Center. CHC is Downey's brainchild, a “one-stop shop” for social services tailored for homeless people and other underserved populations. It is almost entirely funded by private donations.

The organization operates from a converted Mexican restaurant on 192, right in the thick of things - three extended-stay motels are visible from its parking lot. The thoroughly renovated building now houses a food pantry, job services, a closet of work clothes, a clinic...and a handful of donated desks from which representatives of more than a dozen organizations partner with CHC to offer a wide array of social services.

For 90.7's series on homelessness in Central Florida, Downey speaks with reporter Nicole Creston about how the uniquely-structured CHC operates in a county with unique homelessness issues.

Nicole came to Central Florida to attend Rollins College and started working for Orlando’s ABC News Radio affiliate shortly after graduation. She joined Central Florida Public Media in 2010. As a field reporter, news anchor and radio show host in the City Beautiful, she has covered everything from local arts to national elections, from extraordinary hurricanes to historic space flights, from the people and procedures of Florida’s justice system to the changing face of the state’s economy.