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Christian Service Center Campus Aims To Transform Orlando's Approach To Tackling Homelessness

Christian Services Center executive director Eric Gray. Photo: Matthew Peddie, WMFE
Christian Services Center executive director Eric Gray. Photo: Matthew Peddie, WMFE

The long shadow of the pandemic and the economic recession has put more Floridians at risk of losing their homes. Eric Gray, Executive Director of the Christian Services Center of Orlando joins Intersection to explain how the center’s downtown campus brings together a range of non-profits serving adults experiencing homelessness and talks about what he believes is needed to get people on a path out of poverty. 

On a muggy Tuesday morning the Christian Service Center’s headquarters next to Exploria Soccer Stadium bustles with activity. Dozens of people sit at picnic benches, line up to get their laundry done or wait to browse racks of clothing at the thrift store. The service center has been here for more than 30 years, but Gray says in the last few years a transformation has taken place. 

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Eric Gray in the Christian Service Center 'Unique Boutique' thrift store. Photo: Matthew Peddie, WMFE.[/caption]

"We've always had, you know, about two acres and four buildings, here on the property. But the city has been working even before I started here, under my predecessor, to try and create the first comprehensive day services center, serving adults experiencing homelessness here in Orlando," says Gray.

Inside one of the buildings is a hall that serves as a place to get out of the heat and take a rest- and where people can get lunch. 

Chef Lawrence Graham cooks for about 200 people each day, using ingredients donated by local supermarkets. 

"I just go with whatever ingredients I have," says Graham.

Say, for instance if I have beans, I mix the beans up with the ground beef and make a chilli."

Graham has been working as a cook at CSC for two years.

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Lawrence Graham cooks lunch for 200 people a day at the Christian Service Center. Photo: Matthew Peddie, WMFE[/caption]

"You got to pry me away from here," he says.

"I love what I do. I love the interaction with the clients and everything."

As well as meals, laundry, and clothes, people can get a haircut, connect with health care providers and get help finding a job. Seven non-profits call the center home. Soon there will be an eighth. 

"This idea of a comprehensive day services center is is really just one more step along a continuum process of ending homelessness in the community," says Gray.

"We used to focus on how can we serve people, and serving homeless adults really met warehousing them in shelters."

The CDC moratorium on evictions ended last month, and Gray says he's bracing for an uptick in homelessness as evictions work their way through the legal system.

"If we see an increase from what is normally about a 3% eviction rate in Orange County, if that increases, even 1%, you're talking about another 10,000 people in the community, it's a big deal. So we are hopeful that that will not happen. But we are holding our breath a little bit too."

Gray says the center's goal this year is to prevent 120 families from becoming homeless and to move 69 families off the streets and into permanent housing.

"Our five year goal is that those numbers, you can add a zero to them so that we hope to have about 500 or 600 people a year or families a year that we're moving from the street and into housing," he says.

"There's a lot of people been pushing on this type of thing for for a decade now, and they're doing a really great job, but it's all starting to come together just in the last year or so. And I think you're going to see a lot more success with us moving towards functional zero and homelessness as a community within the next 10 to 15 years."

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Eric Gray says the center's goal is to prevent 120 people this year from becoming homeless and move a further 69 off the streets and into permanent housing. Photo: Matthew Peddie, WMFE[/caption]