Orlando homeless outreach organization struggles with “squatters”

WINTER GARDEN, Fla. — A Central Florida homeless outreach organization says it’s having a problem with squatters!


Matthew’s Hope has a transitional housing program for those who have suffered with homelessness.

The organization’s founder, Pastor Scott Billue, says the nonprofit has never really had a problem with past program participants squatting in its 14-year history.

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That was up until the last month or so.

He says two squatters are refusing to leave one unit. The nonprofit says there were two other instances before this involving families.

Billue says the “squatters” are people that were in the program that decided to leave or were kicked out for not following the rules.

Winter Garden Police say they agency won’t take action until Matthew’s Hope goes through the civil process of eviction.

Matthew’s Hope says it’s now pausing new applications for their transitional housing program as it tries to handle their squatter problem.

“I have families and individuals that need a space, that are looking for a space and willing to follow the guidelines and knowing that I can’t do that till we know where we stand is very tough,” Billue said.

One of those “squatters”, Billue said, is 55-year-old Dennis Dewan.

“Anytime you work for somebody, they owe you compensation,” Dewan said.

Dewan was part of the program for a little over a year-- up until this month.

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Matthew’s Hope says there’s no lease involved in the program.

Dewan and others signed an agreement that explained the rules to stay in the program and keep housing. This includes putting in 45 hours of work a week.

Program members have to work 40 hours a week, either with a paying job outside of the ministry or work 40 hours with the ministry. They’re also required to work a minimum of five hours toward the maintenance and services at Matthew’s Hope each week. Billue says that can include doing tasks such as cleaning and stacking shelves.

Instead of earning cash in the program, they earn points. Dewan claims he got 10 points an hour.

“They kicked me out, kept my 10,900 points that I earned throughout the program,” Dewan said.

According to their agreement, Billue says, the points don’t mean anything when the person is out of the program. Dewan says he knew the agreement stated that. But still, Dewan refuses to leave, even after notices have been posted to his door.

Billue says the nonprofit has spent well over $10,000 to support Dewan over the months for medical bills, shelter, food and more. Dewan told Eyewitness News he’s demanding compensation in cash-- despite Matthew’s Hope giving him months of housing, services, and food.

Matthew’s Hope says it’s repeatedly asked Winter Garden Police to take action and remove the “squatters.”  The nonprofit says it’s been told by police that Dewan and others can stay rent-free for now.

Matthew’s Hope leadership says when it discussed cutting water and electricity to the “squatters’” units, a Winter Garden officer said, “What kind of Christians are you?”

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Winter Garden Police did not respond to the allegation but said the agency could not take any action against the “squatters” until Matthew’s Hope goes through the civil process of eviction.

“The purpose of the civil judicial process is to ensure that due process is provided to all of our residents,” Winter Garden Police Chief Steve Graham said. “The City’s attorneys are in contact with legal representatives from Matthew’s Hope. The Police Department remains available to consider any further information provided by Matthew’s Hope or the residents. Additionally, we remain prepared to enforce the Order of any Court of competent jurisdiction in this matter.”

Billue tells Eyewitness News that, while Matthew’s Hope is dealing with this problem, it’s also having to borrow tens of thousands of dollars to stay afloat.

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