Orlando-area homeless shelter floods as concerns about housing crisis mount

ORLANDO, Fla. — Freddy Clayton surveyed the former motel’s grounds, noting the piles of trash strewn about the grass and bits of building material near the entrances to rooms.


“It’s a setback,” he said, “But it’s manageable for us.”

Clayton, the president of the Orlando Union Rescue Mission, operates his men’s shelter on the property. A total of 140 short- and long-term residents live here for 30 days to one year, learning to overcome addiction, seeking therapy and participating in work or service requirements to keep busy.

Last week, the facility was overcome by floodwaters from a bog in the back. Upwards of two feet of water sloshed against some of his buildings and made its way into the units — 17 of them were destroyed, displacing 32 men.

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Clayton has made room for them by doubling the number of beds in other rooms. However, the replacement of the drywall and furniture in the affected units, plus repairs to the laundry facilities and other miscellaneous costs, will run him an estimated $150,000. It’s a cost his ministry can absorb temporarily but will need to make up for in the long run. He has already started fundraising efforts to help.

“It’s a huge chunk for a not-for-profit operation,” he said.

The damage, though, is another hit to the supply of housing in the Orlando area. Already struggling under significant migration trends pre-Ian, the city is now staring at a likely eviction crisis after the storm flooded apartment buildings, many in lower-income areas.

This week, some of those buildings took the necessary steps required by Florida law and terminated their tenants’ leases. At the Cypress Landing Apartment complex, tenants said they did not have the resources to rebuild their lives. Nor, they added, would they be able to find rents as low as they were paying at other facilities.

Clayton said his ministry was fielding 20 phone calls per day from families seeking refuge at his shelters. Both of them were already full, he said.

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“Our resources are stretched,” he said. “I know the resources of the other facilities in town that house homeless folks, they’re completely stretched. So, we need to find some other way to house these folks on a short-term basis in response to this emergency.”

So far, Orange County officials have not laid out a plan nor suggested any form of a contingency plan had been drawn up in the event a disaster like Ian rolled through. One commissioner said the county was not expecting waters to rise as high as they did. Another official said affected families should immediately apply for FEMA assistance.

“I’m not sure that anybody has a significant short term solution to the emergency caused by the hurricane,” Clayton mused.

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Already, there were signs people’s cries for help were being listened to. Cypress Landing informed its tenants Wednesday that October rents would be refunded once keys were retuned and liability waivers were signed.

Still, Clayton predicted longer-term effects of the storm. Rents would rise, he said, due to competition and the chance for landlords to renovate their units and return them to the market with a higher price tag.

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The storm not only affects the families now searching for a new home, but working-class families across the area, young professionals, and the adults who graduate from the ministry’s program and attempt to once again live on their own.

That, he said, represented another hurdle for those men and women to overcome on a long journey back to normality, just as Central Florida itself will experience as it digs itself out from the floods.

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