Study: Almost 300 Central Florida youths are homeless

ORLANDO, Fla. — Almost 300 teenage children and young adults have been identified as homeless in metropolitan Orlando, according to the first Central Florida Youth Count.

The Central Florida Commission on Homelessness on Tuesday announced the results of the study, which was conducted in October.

More than 45 community organizations worked with University of Chicago researchers to conduct the count and to prepare the final report.

The count was the first-ever regional study of unaccompanied homeless people between the ages of 13 and 24 in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties.

Community leaders on Tuesday discussed gaps in assistance for Central Florida's growing population of homeless youth.

Many of those surveyed said they were couch-surfing or living in vacant homes, motels, cars or on the street.

The survey revealed that at least 268 homeless young people are homeless, but volunteers said the official number is likely higher because of the stigma of homelessness.

Natalie Villard said she lived in her car for four months after moving to Orlando to attend Valencia College.

"Times were hard," she said. "I didn't realize rent was going to be so high. I wasn't making enough money to support myself and pay bills. Times got really rough."

Some of the homeless youths said they've been arrested or spent time in the foster care system.