9 Investigates families, children living in hotels on U.S. 192



OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. - Thousands of children in Osceola County are homeless, many living in motels along U.S. 192.

9 Investigates first told you sex offenders are also living in those hotels.

Channel 9's Vanessa Welch has learned leaders in the hospitality industry are trying to move the children and their families into safer homes, but it will take a lot of work and a lot of donations.

Before the sun rises, dozens of children leave their motel rooms and wait for the school bus along busy U.S. 192.

9 Investigates learned buses stop at 53 motels in Osceola County to pick up children who don't have permanent homes. And most of the children live in single rooms with their parents and siblings.

It's a growing problem happening at dozens of hotels up and down the roadway.

"It's tight. It's not much room," Gregory Lee said about the motel room he and his fiancée live in.

Lee said he has a job but can't afford to save up first and last month's rent for an apartment.

And crime at the motel is a constant concern.

9 Investigates pulled recent police calls for Home Suite Home and two other nearby motels and found deputies responded more than 200 times for everything from drugs to sex crimes.

Mark Waltrip has interviewed many children who live in the motels and said, "It breaks your heart; they will tell you stories of getting off the bus stop and having to navigate through hallways filled with people performing elicit behavior."

Waltip is trying to get families out of motels. As the COO of Westgate Resorts, he has a vested interested in reviving the tourist corridor, and his Hospitality Helps program has moved 250 motel families into apartments.

"I believe we have a responsibility to help them. That's why I have been strict on saying help first and enforcement second," said Waltrip.

He means code enforcement. It's illegal to make a motel your permanent residence.

"We can't get them out or move them along because of lack of support from law enforcement and our judicial system," said Dana Chane, who owns the Home Suite Home motel.

Chane said the county doesn't pursue evictions because there's nowhere for the people to go. Chane said Osceola County needs more affordable workforce housing options.

Until that happens, Waltrip and his partners are moving Osceola families into apartments in Orange and Seminole.

The Lees are next on the list. Lee said it means the world to him -- it's a big blessing.

The group found them a home but Lee will have to catch a bus to get to work because his car broke down and he can't afford repairs.

Osceola County is trying to get grant money to convert motels into affordable apartments so people can stay close to their jobs and their children's schools.

If you would like to help families transition out of homelessness and into a safe apartment or other housing, call the Westgate Resorts Hospitality Helps Program at 800-862-0632.