Every Child Deserves a Roof Overhead

In the past few years, our region has made incredible strides to end homelessness, but families are still getting left behind — with devastating effects on children.

Nearly 1,600 families are homeless on any given day in Metro Orlando. The relatively lucky ones bunk with relatives or friends, but more than 300 families have no real shelter. They live in cars and tents or, worse, on the street. We need to put a roof over their heads — then help them take steps to long-term stability.

That’s the goal of Pathways to Home, an effort to eliminate child homelessness in our area. The program, which started seven years ago in Seminole County, has since helped 415 families, including almost 1,100 children, escape the cycle of homelessness.

As reported in the Sentinel on July 23, Pathways to Home is now moving into Orange and Osceola counties, thanks to a $135,000 federal grant awarded through the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida. The endeavor is managed by Community Initiatives Inc., part of the Community Based Care of Central Florida family of companies. Pathways to Home represents Community Based Care of Central Florida’s efforts to address poverty and other underlying causes that destabilize families and can thrust children into foster care.

The funding will pay for three additional case managers, with the goal of assisting at least 80 families across three counties in the next year. Case managers create customized plans for families to build more secure, self-sufficient lives. These plans often include:

• Finding permanent housing.
• Vocational training and job-search assistance.
• Arranging for public benefits and Medicaid.
• Enrolling children in school.
• Teaching basic financial skills.

This program has proven results, but much more needs to be done in Central Florida, where roughly 45 percent of households live paycheck to paycheck, according to a recent study from Heart of Florida United Way. Often, both parents are working, but not making enough money to get ahead. They are one extended illness, job loss or unforeseen circumstance away from being homeless.

That scenario became all too real just two days before Christmas 2016 at the Unno Boutique Hotel in Kissimmee. Nearly 250 people, including children, were suddenly unsheltered after the extended-stay facility caught fire. Osceola residents and nonprofits, including our Pathways to Home team, came through for some 80 families, getting them to shelters and donating food, clothing and presents.

But the plight of most families who fall into homelessness occurs quietly and out of the way, without the media attention garnered by the hotel fire. Their needs are no less glaring.

With community support, “bridge housing” provides shelter for families while they secure long-term rental housing.

No one should be homeless, most especially children.