9 Investigates: Arrests of homeless people in Orlando

by: Field Sutton Updated:

ORLANDO, Fla. - With thousands of homeless people being arrested each year in Orlando, advocates said the city needs more long-term solutions to address the issue.

Most of Central Florida's chronically homeless population lives in downtown Orlando. The group is defined as having severe mental or physical disabilities with no way of being employed. 9 Investigates learned that many of them have been arrested at least dozens of times.

More often than not, a homeless person can be found panhandling at East Colonial Drive and North Magnolia Avenue. But drivers often ignore panhandlers at the intersection.

Read: Study: Drastic increase in homeless students in Central Florida

Michael Schreck, who is homeless, told Channel 9's Field Sutton that he recently moved to Orlando from St. Petersburg following a "string of bad luck."

Schreck said that he often tells motorists, "God bless you."

"A lot of people, when they panhandle, they just walk by and stick out their hand and stuff like that," he said. "I try to at least bring something positive to the table."

Read: Orlando City Council passes new panhandling rules

Schreck said that he had hoped it would be easier to live on Orlando's streets, but so far, that hasn't been the case.

"It seems like their attitude in general is just, like, we're not wanted," Schreck said.

Central Florida Commission on Homelessness CEO Shelley Lauten said that repeatedly jailing the homeless people wastes time and money.

Read: 'The Florida Project': Film highlights homelessness in Osceola County

Lauten said that homeless people and panhandlers should be treated differently.

"The judge will generally let him out on court costs alone, which is anywhere from $200 to $400," she said. "He goes back on the street, and guess what: The cycle starts all over again."

9 Investigates found that several homeless people in Orlando are racking up the bulk of the jail time.

Read: For Miami's homeless, a choice: Take shelter or be held

Julie Ford has been arrested 26 times since 2015. Yau Chen has been arrested 115 times since 2009. Cornelius Brodus has been arrested 169 times since 1988.

Orlando police Chief John Mina said that officers have begun issuing warnings to homeless people when possible.

"You can't arrest your way out of this situation," Mina said. "Let's face it. People have been begging for money for centuries."

Read: Vacant Osceola County church could be used to serve homeless

Mina said that sometimes people should receive the services that they need instead of being jailed.

Although it would require years of planning and millions in funding, Mina and Lauten said that Orlando could turn toward San Antonio's Haven for Hope for ideas on how to address homelessness.

The 22-acre campus provides housing and support services, such as case management, job training and education.

Read: Osceola County agrees to new study on homelessness

The facility also offers San Antonio police officers an alternative to repeatedly jailing the homeless for minor infractions.

Schreck said that although some homeless people won't want to improve their living conditions, he would appreciate any effort to spare him a trip to jail for doing nothing more than trying to survive.

"It is a cycle, and it's easy to get caught up into," he said. "The hardest thing to do is to get up out of it."

Read: Daytona Beach homeless shelter on hold, city leaders say


Watch a "Central Florida Spotlight" episode on homelessness below:


 

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