Homeless advocates and city leaders made the call and now, landlords are stepping up to help them solve a problem: housing 129 of the most chronically homeless individuals in Central Florida by March.

  • "Welcome Home Project" launched in November 2017
  • Project identified one bedroom, efficiency homes for those in need
  • Incentive program provides landlords with $500 bonus

So far, they have housed 54 people in the last two months.

“We feel that it is our duty to step up," said David Lobsinger, the community manager of Wellington Park Apartments. “I think there’s a need for quality, affordable housing. So to be able to be on the front line and to provide that is something special.”

Wellington Park, located off S.R. 436 in Apopka, opened two and a half months ago, filling to capacity within 45 days. Wendover Housing Partners built the property as low income housing. Rent is based on income thresholds; eligibility is based on not making more than a certain amount of income, but every resident pays the same amount for a one-bedroom or two-bedroom apartment.

Recently, they welcomed two formerly homeless individuals into their community, including Jorge Manrique.

“This place is like a sanctuary for me," Manrique said, gesturing around in his third floor apartment. "I have a washer and dryer, very nice."

It was a hard climb for Manrique, however, after construction accidents left him unable to work. For years, he served as caregiver to his elderly mother before she eventually passed.

“I was very sad and depressed. I became lost," he said.

Without income and feeling without purpose, Manrique then found himself living on the streets.

“You get desperate, you don’t have a place to live a place to eat," he said. “I slept in my truck for four months, then waited for six weeks to have an open bed at the Coalition.”

Turning things around

At the Coalition for the Homeless, Manrique, who moved to the United States from Venezuela at a young age, began working with a case worker and applied for permanent housing.

As he waited, he kept himself busy working in the kitchen, helping to feed the hundreds of other men, women and children at the Coalition, plus people living on the street each night.

In December 2017, Manrique reached a milestone. He moved into his own apartment in Apopka.

“This was the only place they opened the doors for me, which was good. I couldn’t believe it. This is a brand new place," he said.

Lobsinger said that Wendover Housing, who builds primarily affordable housing properties around Florida, are "trying to be part of the solution" to end homelessness in Central Florida.

“They’ve all stepped up and said we can make a difference," said Shelley Lauten of various landlords, from Wendover to Leland Properties, who have opened up their facilities to house homeless individuals. “Our work is just beginning.”

Landlord Heroes

The Central Florida Commission on Homelessness CEO said they launched the "Welcome Home Project" in November with the goal of identifying potential one bedroom and efficiency homes for neighbors in need.

They then relied upon "landlord heroes" to heed their call, despite a sometimes pervasive stigma that surrounds housing the homeless.

“We believe that everyone is home worthy, everyone deserves a home," she said, adding, “We just don’t have enough homes, and we can’t solve homelessness without housing."

Lauten said that government partners recently provided the region with an almost $8 million advancement to find the homes they need to house the most vulnerable.

In addition, an incentive program in Orange County provides landlords with a $500 bonus when formerly homeless tenants move in, another $500 if they stay for six months time.

The Commission on Homelessness said that it costs around $35,000 a year to keep someone on the streets, between ER visits, law enforcement and social services. Housing those individuals, in comparison, costs between $10,000-$12,000.

"Many people do not know that it actually costs more to keep someone on the streets of Central Florida than it does to give them a home," she said.

“There’s no words for me to say thank you," said Manrique.

Manrique has tried to express his thanks, penning a heartfelt letter to those who helped him on his journey home.

“I have become aware of many opportunities I have wasted," he said, reading. “I am honored to have been part of such a good program. It has taught me a great deal about being human again."

Since November 21, Welcome Home Project leaders said that they've raised over $100,000 for moving costs and furniture, but, they say they still need the community’s support. For more information, visit http://rethinkhomelessness.org.