Down the road from the “Most Magical Place on Earth,” thousands, according to the Daily Mail, are living in motels, homeless encampments, and even their cars on the streets of Kissimmee, Florida — located right outside of Disney World.
The Mail report detailed the thousands living on or off the streets of downtown Kissimmee were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some lived there their whole lives; others came looking for refuge from their home state. Among them include a wide breadth, ranging from young to old; white, Black, and Latino.
Most motels in or near the city enforce a two-week stay to avoid claims of residency. And they are no longer cheap — with some charging between $1,200 and $1,400 a month. Still, they are below the median rental price of homes in the area, which go for about $2,295 a month.
For 61-year-old Barbie Austria, who runs the Kissimmee Poinciana Homeless Outreach support group, “really, there are thousands” of homeless in Kissimmee. “I’m not exaggerating.”
“We have some that just stay in the woods, and people in the streets, and then people — so many of them families — in motels. But the motels,” she adds, “are now expensive, so they will probably stay a week, and then they are back out in their car, or on the road.”
“During the pandemic, when there was the rent freeze, people just stopped paying their rents, and it ruined their credit,” she continued. “So their credit rating dropped dramatically and that is something that counts against them, because you must have a credit score of 640 or higher to rent.
“The criteria to get into housing is so difficult. You have to make three times the income of your rent. You have to go through criminal background. No bankruptcies allowed; if you are in debt collection, you are not allowed. Often they can find no way back.”
But “all the motels requires is an ID card and money.”
Among those battling to get into the temporary motel rooms, Austria adds, are Disney’s own employees.
“But they will not talk to the media; they are too afraid of losing their jobs,” she said. “I know one man, who is one of the characters on stage, who has no permanent home.”
“Many people won’t immediately notice it, but there are a lot of homeless here trying to look like tourists, so they can just hang out, pass the time, stay out of the sun. Or just feel normal.”