Kissimmee, Florida – In January and February of 2014, The Osceola News-Gazette published a series of articles about the “homeless problem” in Osceola County, Florida. The Op-Ed piece here was submitted to the editor for publication in “YOUR VIEW.” The cover letter, shorter in length, made it on page 5 of the Saturday, March 15 edition. The submission/blog that follows here did not. It’s being posted here, because “Good Samaritan” hotel general managers and their staffs live around the world. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Thanks to the help of a caring group of hotel and motel general managers (GMs), and staffs, along U. S. 192 in Osceola County, countless numbers of homeless families – many with young children – have been sheltered, fed, clothed, and protected since the economic downturn started in 2007.
During the last seven years, these Good Samaritans have lent helping hands with humility, respect, discretion, and tact. They have supported their ‘homeless residents” in the ways they could, to help them in efforts to survive and to get their lives back on track.
The GMs and staffs have offered homeless individuals and families a place to call “home,” at least temporarily. They’ve provided affordable housing – single or double room, or two-room suite – with essential utilities (electric, water, sewer, phone). They’ve included basic accommodations such as beds and cots, showers and tubs, air conditioner and heating systems, refrigerators with small freezers, and microwaves.
They’ve offered a solid roof, walls, and floors to protect these struggling individuals and families from dangerous rains and lightening, extreme heat and humidity, and brutal cold. A place where they felt safe and secure. A place, and persons, that they could trust to protect them THEN, while seeking more suitable temporary and permanent housing. A place where their children, under parental supervision, could roam, play and explore the world outside of their cramped, temporary habitats. A place where these individuals and families could leave their few remaining possessions, while they looked for work, or tried to hold onto the jobs they did have.
Many times, I saw signs, and heard about, ways that the general manager of our hotel was extending a helping hand to our “homeless residents.” Far beyond the ordinary and the expected. Sometimes to the dismay of officials with the property management company.
The GM did what he could do to help them “make do” – stretch whatever income and savings they did have. For example, he extended their room rental agreements at little or no extra charge. He reduced their room or suite rates, whenever possible. Knowing him, it’s likely that he let some homeless families stay free.
At least for short periods of time. He arranged for or approved little acts of kindness, that only the staff member(s) involved knew about. At certain holiday times, such as Christmas, he saw that all of the homeless children found small bags of special treats at their doors. Consistently, he showed the same high level of respect for these “homeless residents,” as he did toward our regular hotel guests. And, he encouraged, even supported, his staff members to do the same.
Over a course of six years, and since, I’ve heard some impressive, heart-warming stories about hotel and motel general managers and staffs along U. S. 192. (Elsewhere, too.) Examples of appropriate acts of what I call “humanitarianism for the homeless.”
One GM arranged, when possible, for left-over food and meals from the food court and main kitchen to be boxed, then delivered to his homeless families’ rooms. He had small bags of groceries and packages of snack foods (chips, crackers, cookies, candy, gum) left at their doors. Containers of milk and juice appeared miraculously at their doors, or inside room refrigerators. Extra blankets were put on beds and cots as the temperatures dropped outside.
In the fall, a GM recruited staff to help fill smaller backpacks with activity items, boxes of juice, and packages of snack foods and nutrition bars for homeless children, too young to attend school. The GM’s staff at another hotel donated ingredients, then baked and boxed dozens of Christmas cookies for each “homeless family” staying there.
One GM and staff scouted around for the clothing sizes of all of their “homeless residents” (children-to-adult), and saw that each got a nice warm winter jacket.
During the last few months, different government agencies and non-profit organizations have reported the number of homeless families that have been living in Osceola hotels and motels. Their representatives and spokespersons have reported on the impact of these “homeless residents” on the leisure and hospitality business economy in the county. Yes, a major challenge!
They’ve reported the rate of unemployment. They’ve estimated the number of jobs added in the county. They’ve estimated the number of entry-level jobs available, and their pay scales. They’ve cited the average household earnings, where only one person worked full-time. And, they’ve explained the huge disparity between household gross earnings, and essential cost-of-living expenses. (A prevailing problem in most areas, worldwide.)
What these entities and their spokespersons have not done, to my knowledge, is acknowledge the tremendous service provided, during these very tough economic times, by many GMs and their staffs at hotels and motels along U. S. 192. Nor have they offered any commendations, public or private, to these special Good Samaritans – “Humanitarians for the Homeless” (my term).
Last December, while at the St. Cloud library, a man approached me. “Do you recognize me?” he asked. He said that his family of four had stayed at my hotel on West U. S. 192. And, he gave me this little update. . .
“Thanks for making our homeless situation bearable,” he said. “We never would have made it, were it not for the people at your hotel. The general manager on down. Everyone treated us with dignity and kindness. By the way, my wife and I both have full-time jobs now. We rent a house here, and were able to finance half on a newer used car. Tell your GM and everyone there a big thanks.”
The Osceola News-Gazette’s series, particularly the February 13 article, “Homeless on 192” and “Our View” editorial, “One homeless child. . .” struck a chord. They reminded me of something that a “homeless resident” at the hotel explained in 2012. . .
“ ‘Homeless people want to feel that they deserve to have a home like everyone else. And, staying at the hotel serves that need. It’s not a house, but it’s a home. . . for now.’ ”
Food for thought: The hospitality and tourism industry, in Florida, is on the upswing. To help it along, some hoteliers are accepting only advance credit-card bookings. No walk-in credit card or cash reservations. Who might that keep out? The distance traveler, who shows up unshaven, and wearing a faded shirt and torn jeans? The couple who pays with cash versus credit card (plastic or mobile app)? The individual or family that appears to be homeless, but isn’t? The individual or families that appear to be homeless, and are?
Robert Hajtovik * * * * * * * * * * * * Thanks for visiting.