Orange County

Coalition offers care for homeless in Central Florida amid pandemic

ORLANDO, Fla. — Many people are without a job and are searching for their next meal just before the holidays.

It’s a stark reality for several people trying to weather the COVID-19 storm.

Channel 9 spoke with a mother who lost it all but is still as positive despite her challenges.

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“It was so scary because I didn’t know how to come into a shelter with five kids,” Celeste Sawyer said.

But that is Sawyer’s reality.

And despite the ups and downs, she said she’s grateful.

“I know it could be worse,” Sawyer said.

But let’s start from the beginning.

Sawyer was living in New York with her five daughters when COVID-19 cases started to rise up north.

She thought it would be best to escape and head to Central Florida to live with her mother and her ill grandmother.

But things took a turn.

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She lost her job, her grandmother’s health declined, and she passed away, and the coronavirus cases in Florida started to spike.

Lastly, they were evicted.

A downward spiral, and she didn’t know how to climb out.

“It was the day before Thanksgiving. I was really, really depressed,” she said.

But just when she thought she was going to have to live on the streets, she received a call from the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, telling her that her name was picked off the waiting list.

“We got a room where we can all be together and learn about each other more,” she said.

But getting into the shelter didn’t relieve all the stress.

Throughout the pandemic, the coalition has taken extra steps to keep people safe.

Screenings have become part of their routine.

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“For the first 10 days that they are in the shelter with us, they actually go through wellness checks twice a day,” said Meredith Bekemeyer, with the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida.

So what happens if people are sick or showing signs of COVID-19? The coalition carved out specific isolation rooms.

The shelter guests will be put in quarantine rooms and will stay put until they are cleared.

In that time, contactless meals will be delivered.

In addition to that, there is a community-wide isolation and recovery center that’s not just for homeless people. It’s for anyone in the community who needs to isolate and does not know where to turn.

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