The New Homeless: Shawn Martin at the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida
%%DynaPub-Enhancement class="enhancement contentType-HTML Content fragmentId-1 payloadId-61603 alignment-right size-small"%% Cooking wasn't Martin's first career. Before he worked in restaurants, he made a good living in property management and construction. But Florida's housing market has been one of the worst hit by the real estate collapse. And fewer tourists visiting Orlando has crippled the local service industry -- including restaurants like the one where Martin worked.
$2 a Day for Food and Shelter
Without a paycheck, Martin couldn't pay the rent or make his car payments. His car was repossessed, and living with his mother didn't work out. Finally, Martin decided to seek help from the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida for himself and his three girls, ages 9, 7 and 5. The Coalition charges $2 a day for Martin's food and shelter, and after he finds work, he'll pay $20 a week for room and board until his life is stable enough for him to move out.
The Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida assists about 4,000 homeless people per year through five programs: the Center for Women and Families, Women's Residential and Counseling Center, the Men's Pavilion, the First Steps Substance Abuse Recovery Program and Transitional and Scattered Site Housing. More than 70% of its budget is raised through cash and in-kind donations from the community.
A major myth of the homeless that must be dispelled, says Brent Trotter, the Coalition's president and CEO, is that the homeless are lazy. Every day, he says, he hears at least one resident say, "I never thought it would happen to me."
Depression, Then Recovery
In his early days of living at the Coalition, Martin was very depressed. He says his wife left the shelterafter their first night there,and he has no idea where she is. (He says his wife left out of refusal to comply with the Coalition's policy against drinking alcohol.)
But knowing he and his girls have shelter and food is helping him concentrate on rebuilding his life, he says. Each morning, Martin walks his girls to the school-bus stop, then attends classes with Goodwill Industries, a Coalition partner, to learn how to build a resume and improve his interview and job-search skills. Martin is also getting one-on-one counseling for developing a budget, so he can pay bills and build a savings account.
The girls attend an after-school program every day at Boys and Girls Clubs of America (another Coalition partner), where they get help with their homework and attend activities until 6 p.m. -- precious hours when Martin doesn't worry about their safety.
"A Series of Unfortunate Events"
Martin has finished the Goodwill course and is starting to look for work. Goodwill will help him find a job as well. Martin says he'll take anything just to make some money and build a savings account, buy a car and move out of the family room at the Coalition into an apartment. (After he moves his family to the Scattered Housing Program, his girls will still be able to use the Boys and Girls Club's after-school facilities.) The Coalition works with partners to find apartments with low rents as part of its Scattered Housing Program -- but before a family can move out, it must have a budget and sufficient savings.
Orange County Public Schools' LifeStrides program, another Coalition partner, offers free education to the homeless in about 200 careers and provides testing to determine what level of education each applicant needs. Martin plans, after he finds work, to go back to school to train as a nurse, but he will probably start with training to be a nurse's assistant or licensed practical nurse.
Martin's tuition will be fully paid through his first two years at a local community college. He will then seek other federal grant money to finish his degree.
The Coalition residents, Martin says, are "good people who just had a series of unfortunate events." Martin says his father wasn't in his life when he grew up, which made him determined that "when I grew up and had kids, I'm going to be there for them," he says. "It's no longer about me anymore. It's about my girls."
To find out how you can help the Coalition help central Florida's least fortunate, please visit its website.
More stories from The New Homeless series:
The New Homeless: Candido Gonzalez at New York's Bowery Mission
The New Homeless: A Young Widowed Mom's Bleak Christmas in Camden
The New Homeless: Aspiring Web Developer Ends Up on San Francisco Streets
DailyFinance Readers Chip in to Help Homeless Mom in Camden