In response to the overwhelming requests for housing assistance we have experienced at the Puerto Rico Welcome Center at the Orlando Airport, our CEO Jeff Hayward authored the following letter. It was delivered to Florida Governor Rick Scott on October 26 requesting immediate and long term support to alleviate the affordable housing crisis.
Dear Governor Scott:
Thank you for your leadership in establishing a Welcome Center at Orlando International Airport in response to the devastating hurricane that struck Puerto Rico. It is a signal of your compassion for our fellow American citizens, many of whom have family in Florida.
Over the past several weeks, Heart of Florida United Way has been at the airport welcome center every day, including weekends, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. During that time, we have seen thousands of individuals and hundreds of families come to the welcome center. For United Way, we receive approximately 250-300 requests for assistance daily. As you may imagine, the requests for assistance can range vastly and increase in complexity when layered with the trauma many have experienced.
For example, a young mother accompanied by her 5-year-old son arrived at our table looking for housing assistance. Exhausted and overwhelmed, the mother was doing her best to calm her equally distraught child as he continued to ask for his father. “Daddy! Daddy! Where’s my daddy?” Upon further consultation with one of our crisis counselors, we learned that this young woman lost her husband in the hurricane. In the haste of securing a spot for her and her son on a humanitarian flight, she had no opportunity to bury her husband. She shared with our crisis counselor that she had not yet told her son what had happened. As you can imagine, in the case of this family, mental anguish and trauma are just some of the issues they face.
Or take 26-year-old Pedro, who in Puerto Rico was a thriving, working, college student. Hurricane Maria destroyed his apartment, demolished the grocery store where he worked and managed, and closed his college indefinitely. With literally nothing left there for him, he came to United Way with only the clothes on his back looking for some direction on where to start. A safe place to stay and a meal got him on his way and in a matter of two days he had completed six job interviews and had received four job offers. We are continuing to stabilize his housing situation until he receives his first pay check and can save enough money to afford the first and last months’ rent for his apartment.
Or the family of sweet Sophia, a young girl confined to a wheelchair with severe physical and intellectual disabilities. Worried over the condition of their daughter, her mother and father decided to leave their home to ensure their daughter’s well-being. The family had not eaten in days, did not have a place to go, and had only one bag of belongings between the three of them as they had only minutes to pack before they would lose their opportunity to escape.
These stories could go on and on. These are only three examples of the authentic, dire circumstances our neighbors are experiencing. Among all other things, housing remains to be the biggest hurdle during this crisis.
We understand that affordable housing is a complex challenge that our region faces. This was true before Hurricane Maria displaced thousands of citizens. We also acknowledge that there is not a simple fix. But doing nothing is not an option. That is not who we are as Floridians nor as Americans.
We are in desperate need of your help, Governor Scott, because of your demonstrated and vocal commitment to all Floridians and all citizens; we are asking you for two considerations:
- Financial Support to Alleviate Homelessness. Heart of Florida United Way and other local agencies do not have the capacity or resources to continue to sustain emergency level temporary housing solutions.
- Releasing the Sadowski Funds intended for affordable housing so that they can be used to create a longer-term housing strategy for our communities. According to the most recent ALICE Report spotlighting people who are asset limited, income constrained employed (ALICE); there is a shortage of nearly 75,000 affordable housing units in our tri-county area alone.
It is our sincerest hope that after reading the stories above, you will be inspired to act on this immediate and long-term housing crisis we face. We acknowledge that this is not your problem alone to solve; rather it will take the entire community at large. We seek to be your partner in this effort.
Our mission is to fight for the health, education and financial stability of every person in Central Florida. We believe that every citizen deserves the opportunity to be self-sustaining and thrive. Housing is the first step in that long journey.
Thank you for your continued leadership and thoughtfulness on this matter that is so important to Central Floridians and our mutual economic prosperity.
President & CEO
Heart of Florida United Way
Advocate for Change
Affordable housing has been a community concern even before Hurricane Maria displaced thousands of citizens. We need advocates to join us and lend your voice to the cause! Email Governor Rick Scott and advocate for change with our continuing crisis for affordable housing in Central Florida.