• Program to put families in homes expands


    ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - A program to get families out of homelessness that started in central Florida has gone statewide.

    In April, WFTV Eyewitness News reported that resorts, theme parks and apartment companies were supplying families with jobs and homes.

    WFTV's Racquel Asa has learned that the program has tripled the number of families it is has helped since then.

    To 16-year-old Destiny Raynor, the Christmas tree that sits in the corner of her home is more than just a tree.

    "When I look at the Christmas tree, I think of how lucky we are to have a house now and for both my parents to be working," said Raynor.

    For several months, Raynor's family was homeless. They lived in an extended-stay hotel after losing their home.

    "It was embarrassing and stressful, just them trying to make money to keep the room when they didn't have job," said Raynor.

    Her family was stuck in rut, like many other central Florida families with without homes or jobs.

    But that ended when her mom got a job with Westgate Resorts, and her family got a place to stay through a program called Hospitality Helps.

    Hospitality Helps, a private partnership between apartment communities and time-share companies, provides housing and jobs for families in need.

    "It was hard to get ahead in the situation we were in at this time a year ago," said Christina Queen, who was homeless at one time.

    In just seven months, the program has helped 150 families like Queen's.

    "It sounds impressive, but to be honest with you when you look at the fact that we just added another 2,000 homeless families to the central Florida rolls just in the past year alone, the problem is expanding," Mark Waltrip of Hospitality Helps.

    Waltrip, who is also on the Central Florida Homeless Commission, said that what needs to happen now is less duplication of resources in central Florida that are all trying to do the same thing.

    "[There are] all these centers out there doing pieces of the puzzle. What has really yet to happen is a full collaboration across all those resources," said Waltrip.

    Without those resources, Raynor said, her family wouldn't be smiling as much as it does today.

    "It's more like I'm able to act my age instead of having to sit and be an adult and stress over bills," said Raynor.

    Participants in the program are also required to have case management, which includes help to balance finances to help families not fall back into homelessness.

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    Program to put families in homes expands