Central Florida religious leaders working to address homelessness

Pastor’s Conference on Homelessness set for May 4

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – This week, leaders in the local religious community are coming together to address something that’s become a big issue across Central Florida — homelessness.

According to Homeless Services Network of Central Florida, the organization has helped house more than 4,000 homeless people in the last year, but there are still at least 2,600 people in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties and nearly a third are under 18.

Parramore resident Verndale Johnson said with inflation and her rising rent, it’s tough.

“I’m a disability check away from being homeless,” Johnson said.

And she knows she’s not alone.

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She was relieved to know that this coming Thursday, May 4, a group of pastors from across Central Florida are coming together at the Christian Service Center in Parramore for a Pastor’s Conference on Homelessness. The purpose is to share ideas and find creative ways to better address what they’re calling a housing crisis in our area.

“I’m seeing this not only with my church congregation but the community at large,” said Rev. Dr. Robert Spooney.

Spooney is senior pastor at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist church in Parramore. He’s among the 40 or so pastors who will be at Thursday’s conference.

“If you have a heart of compassion, it ought to make you want to do something,” Spooney said. “We just can’t sit and do nothing about this situation, let’s see how we can help.”

He said his church is receiving more calls since the pandemic from people needing help with housing.

The number of people found to be living without shelter in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties has increased by 38% in the past year and by 75% since the pandemic, according to the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida.

Eric Gray runs the Christian Service Center where Thursday’s pastors’ conference will be. His centers are aimed at connecting people daily with food, medicine, housing and jobs.

“In 2020, we were probably assisting 40-50 families a year with rental assistance. This year, it’ll probably be closer to 400,” Gray said. “We don’t want to see these people going through this type of horrifying experience. It really is terrible. It’s a nightmare.”

There are many organizations that work to help people in need of shelter and food, like the Christian Service Center, the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, and more.

In Orlando alone, the city said it helped more than 2,000 families find housing since 2020 through its emergency rental assistance program.

The city of Orlando sent News 6 this statement:

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic has seriously affected the Orlando community, the city of Orlando has successfully distributed approximately $18 million to provide assistance to residents and families who have been financially impacted. This has included helping more than 2,000 households through the city’s Emergency Rental Assistance Programs of ERAP1 and ERAP2. Previously, with funding from the CARES Act, the city assisted more than 550 households.”

City of Orlando

Orlando Residents can click here for housing assistance: Housing Assistance Programs - City of Orlando

More information about Orange County’s emergency rental assistance program is available on its website.

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About the Author:

Jerry Askin is an Atlanta native who came to News 6 in March 2018 with an extensive background in breaking news.