Facts and Common Questions About Homelessness

Below is information to help provide more information on those experiencing homelessness, as well as offering suggestions on ways you can help. 

Where can I tell those experiencing homelessness to go for services?

Call 211, the free information line where operators can help you direct someone for shelter and services.  The City of Orlando publishes a Street Outreach Card which can be picked up at City Hall, 1st Floor reception and at Discover Downtown (201 South Orange Avenue). This card lists shelters and meal locations, in addition to services available to persons experiencing homelessness in the downtown area. 

How can my organization provide meals to those experiencing homelessness?

The organizations providing meals welcome your assistance as volunteers. You may bring a meal to their site and serve persons in need.  We encourage you to connect with these partners since they can provide more than just a meal. These partners can also offer restroom access and most importantly additional services that may be needed.  

Do those experiencing homelessness even want help?

Unfortunately, some of those who are experiencing homelessness may be “service resistant” and not amenable to being connected to resources that can help them get off the streets and in to shelter. That is why the work of organizations like the HOPE Team is so important in building trust and relationships with those who are experiencing homelessness and encouraging them to take advantage of services that may be available to them. This process takes time, as each individual is unique and often has barriers like a physical disability, mental health issues or substance abuse problems. 

Is panhandling illegal?

Per a 2018 Supreme Court ruling, anti-panhandling laws are unconstitutional. However, the Orlando Police Department continues to enforce aggressive solicitation and harassment ordinances, which has led to as many as 600-800 arrests per year. These arrests, however, are short-term answers to an issue that requires long-term solutions. 

If someone is aggressively panhandling you, whether on the street at an ATM for example, call 911.

How can I help someone who is panhandling?

Many people give to panhandlers because they want to help meet their basic needs of clothing, food and hygiene. However, this type of giving does not ultimately help the individual get off the streets and into housing. Furthermore, we have experienced that nurturing panhandling activities can lead to aggressive panhandling techniques that can negatively impact downtown workers, residents, visitors and businesses. 

What can you do?

  • Direct the money you would have given to someone panhandling to one of our partner agencies, who can create real, lasting change for those experiencing homelessness.
  • If a panhandler mentions they are hungry, and you are compelled to help in that moment, we suggest giving them food, rather than money. 
    • Note: Thanks to the generosity of our community, lunch and dinner meals are available, free of charge, seven days a week in the downtown area. 

Do those experiencing homelessness contribute to crime?

Being homeless is not a crime, but if a homeless person is doing something unlawful, you should call the authorities.

Many times residents may often cite homelessness contributing to the perception that downtown Orlando is unsafe. 

However, arresting those who are experiencing homelessness for misdemeanor offenses does not help that individual and could lead to additional challenges and loss of property such as clothing, medications, bedding, family photos and legal papers. Criminalization can make it harder for people to raise themselves off the streets as they are saddled with debt from fines and fees.

Are the homeless in Orlando from out of town?

An estimated 70% to 80% of the unsheltered in Orlando are local, long-term residents of this area which means only 20% to 30% have come from out of this area. The perception that a large amount of the unsheltered have come to Orlando from other areas is not true.

Is the number of homeless increasing in downtown Orlando?

Due to COVID-19, our community did not conduct the annual Point in Time Count in 2020,  a count of people experiencing homelessness that usually occurs in January. However, The Point in Time Count is current scheduled to be conducted in Summer of 2021.  This important research brings federal dollars to our community to provide services to those in need. 

How is the city handling encampments?

Due to construction activity throughout downtown, some of the less visible places for an unsheltered individual to sleep may have become unavailable and those unsheltered individuals may be sleeping in more visible locations.  

Various city departments including code enforcement, transportation, parks and the Orlando Police Department work closely with the HOPE Team to address the visible homeless and their encampments in the area. They do this by seeking out the residents of the camp and advising them of the shelters and services that are available.  City staff then place signs in the area advising residents that they are trespassing and need to relocate or risk arrest or loss of belongings. The goal is to ensure the camp is visited on two separate days to ensure anyone who may be residing there is notified. If the situation calls for the removal of items from private property, we work with our partner, Service and Love Together, who picks up and agrees to hold the items for 24-48 hours before it is moved to city storage and held for pick-up. This allows individuals that return to camp to secure valuable items such as their identification or medicines. The goal is to avoid arrest whenever possible.