Osceola County continues fight against homelessness

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OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. - The state of homelessness in Osceola County has been called a crisis and for months Channel 9 has been following the efforts to turn things around.

James Custode and his girlfriend are the faces of homelessness in Osceola County.

"We were actually living in the woods for a while, outside in a tent," said Custode.

Channel 9 was there in January when leaders gathered for a summit that revealed the number of homeless people in Osceola jumped by 54 percent between 2012 and 2013. It now stands at almost 5,000 people.

"Most of the recommendations were, 'You have to come up with some housing things,'" said Mark Durbin of Community Vision. "OK. So how do we do that?"

Durbin's group is now using information from the summit to find solutions to transportation, jobs and housing, which means more meetings on the issue over at least the next six months.

"If plans are being put together right now that lead to funding and action then that's OK," he said.

Andrae Bailey is CEO of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness. He said he supports Osceola's decision to continue studying solutions if the outcome is funding.

"Plans that don't lead to investments on the public sector side are really not going to improve the community or get people off the streets," he said.

Bailey will be watching and so will Custode, who has joined thousands of others staying in hotels on US-192, an area once full of tourists in a county still working on a solution.

"It sounds really nice when everyone says they want to help out, but talking doesn't help put food in our stomachs and get people off the streets," he said.