• The Florida Project: Movie highlights Osceola County homelessness problem

    By: Nancy Alvarez


    OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. - A critically acclaimed movie shot in Central Florida highlights the huge homelessness problem along U.S. Route 192 in Osceola County. 

    It’s an issue that Channel 9’s Nancy Alvarez has covered for years. 

    "The Florida Project" is a movie based on the lives of homeless children growing up in motels so close to the Magic Kingdom that they can see fireworks. 

    Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch are the writers and it stars Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Valeria Cotto and Bria Vinaite.

    Dawn Spencer and her 9-year-old twins have lived in a motel for three years. Spencer was an extra in the movie. 

    “We live it every day. Trying to get out is hard, but we're working on it,” Spencer said crying. 

    Photos: Movies filmed in Florida

    The movie also shows Community Hope Center, on U.S. Route 192. 

    “I don't see this as a negative for our community, I don't. I see this as a wonderful opportunity to pay attention to what's going on around us,” said the Rev. Mary Downey.

    Downey had the filmmaker's team embedded in her outreach center for a year. Downey connected the team with families, and it observed her efforts to help. 

    “I wanted to make sure people realized that while there are stories out there, we are not ignoring them. We are not sticking our head in the sand here,” Downey said. 

    >>> Read other Osceola County stories <<<

    Eyewitness News has covered the stories for years, from evictions to the dozens of school bus stops picking up students at motels the line the corridor.

    "The Florida Project" movie is generating Oscar buzz, and Spencer hopes it draws attention to the realities like hers. 

    “There needs to help for us. I hope this movie shows that. We need help. We can't do this alone,” Spencer said. 

    Commissioner Peggy Choudhry said in a statement: 

    “I will be speaking with my fellow commissioners more about a potential pilot program for Osceola County. The idea is bringing together all services the county currently provides and also fills in the gap's where we need them.

    "A place that would be known as a one-stop center were our homeless population and our families in need could come for the assistance needed and get diverted to the proper programs and ultimately for permanent housing. This would all be a combined effort with our corporations, our non-profits, our providers, our faith-based and our citizens.

    "All while ensuring our tax dollars is used properly, effectively, and efficiently.  

    "I would like to welcome the citizens who would like to be part of the solution and would like to participate in the solution to please contact me to join our citizens committee on homelessness. “ 

    A spokesperson for the county said in a statement: 

    “Osceola County’s commitment to homelessness was reinforced in our Strategic Planning workshop attended by commissioners, staff and the public, on Tuesday. The county’s focus remains on using our limited resources in the most efficient way possible – and to work with everyone in our community on this daunting issue. 

    "Though a work of fiction, the movie “the Florida Project,” with its dramatic story and memorable performances has the potential to raise awareness of the unique situation surrounding families living in hotels. It is our hope that those who view this film are moved to become part of efforts underway to address this complex and heartbreaking situation.

    "Because the majority of our homeless population is made of up of families living in hotels, we continue to focus on solutions, including rental assistance and creation of affordable housing for all our low income citizens as part of the HUD strategy of Housing First. By adding to the inventory of affordable housing, we will create a pathway to permanent housing for our citizens. 

    "We believe that in working together we can find ways to keep people safe, while connecting them with the services they need. As was noted in our workshop yesterday, the traditional homeless shelter often becomes a warehouse for people, which is not a viable solution to homelessness. While a “drop-in” center has not been part of our strategy, after a presentation yesterday the Board is considering looking at a proposal that would provide a central space for service providers, as well as some basic needs such as food and clothing.”

    Watch the trailer for the Florida Project which is in theaters Oct. 6 here:


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