Westgate Resorts Foundation is spearheading "Hospitality Helps," a new public-private partnership that is integrating the resources of a variety of organizations to help families who are capable of transitioning out of homelessness.
The program screens families to ensure they are ready to be employed and coordinates the lodging, transportation, furniture and follow-up services to create a sustainable solution.
The Foundation's efforts have also helped push the issue of homelessness in the Orlando area to the forefront of public discussion.
Following is an article that appeared in the Orlando Sentinel newspaper regarding the homelessness problem. The article highlights comments from Destiny Raynor, the oldest daughter in a family that Westgate helped transition out of homelessness by providing employment and housing. Today, Destiny's parents are excelling at their news jobs and the family is well on the road to self-sufficiency.
UCF-Sentinel forum tackles issues of homelessness
By Kate Santich, OrlandoSentinel
June 5, 2012
Destiny Raynor is only 15, but she can already tell you what's wrong with the would-be safety net of homeless services inCentral Florida.
Last year, after her parents' businesses failed and the family of six ended up living in a home with no electricity or running water, they looked at homeless shelters in SeminoleCounty - only to find that the family would have to split up.
"Of course, they would separate my dad and my little brother [from the rest of the family]. He's only 13," Destiny told an audience of 200 at a community forum on homelessness Tuesday. "We would rather stick it out somewhere else, as long as we're together."
They spent four months in a hotel. The stress, Destiny said, was unimaginable.
The forum, hosted by the Orlando Sentinel and theUCFMetroCenter, identified the lack of shelter space for families as one of the biggest needs of the region. But there were many others - including the need for widespread cooperation among government, nonprofits, churches and individuals, and the need for more businesses to join the effort.
"I'd like to see more corporations, more businesses join us because we've been able to address so many [homeless] children," said Beth Davalos, coordinator of the Seminole County Public Schools Families in Transition program. "We've housed over 400 children this year that would otherwise be in their cars."
The forum also featured Florida Rep. Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg), who became homeless after the death of his wife and subsequent cocaine addiction, Coalition for the Homeless President and CEO Brent Trotter and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.
Davalos said something as simple as a contribution of $1,000 worth of auto repairs each month from Mobil 1 helped a mother stave off homelessness recently when her car broke down and she couldn't get to work. Other retailers have donated gift cards that families can use for food and clothing.
Dyer, who serves on the long-troubled Regional Commission on Homelessness, said publicly for the first time that the commission - which has recently discussed disbanding and becoming a mission of the Heart of Florida United Way - needs to continue its work and must do so independently.
"I don't support that [making it part of the United Way]," Dyer said in response to a question. "I support reconfiguring the commission. I don't think housing it in one of our great funding partners or under another provider would be a good idea. I think it needs to be a stand-alone governance."
That issue could be decided at a vote of the commission later this month.
Regardless, both Dyer and Trotter agreed that better cooperation and coordination among agencies is needed to do the most good - a sentiment echoed by Rouson.
"I think every corporation inAmericashould have a conscience to be a willing participant in the betterment of its community," he said after poignantly describing his fall from grace and the help he got to regain his "dignity."
Destiny's family, for instance, was helped not only through the Families in Transition program, but also through the Westgate Foundation, started by the giant timeshare firm Westgate Resorts. The foundation helped provide steady jobs for Destiny's parents as well as an apartment for the family.
"If it wasn't for programs like those, we would probably be out on the street now," Destiny said. She traveled to Washington,D.C., late last year to testify before Congress about her experience.
"It has been an amazing opportunity," she said afterward. "It's actually fun to talk about this and try to help."