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More than 200 men displaced after fire at local Orlando shelter

Leaders of local organizations gather and talk outside the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida in Orlando on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. The part of the building with the shelter dorms burned down the prior Wednesday afternoon.
Lillian Hernández Caraballo
/
WMFE
Leaders of local organizations gather and talk outside the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida in Orlando on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. The part of the building with the shelter dorms burned down the prior Wednesday afternoon.

A blaze Wednesday afternoon has left the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida men’s shelter in Orlando in “unlivable” conditions.

Several other local organizations have been scrambling to help, looking mainly to lodge the 237 displaced individuals who now lack shelter.

Speaking at a press conference outside the facility Thursday, the Coalition’s president and CEO, Allison Krall thanked the organizations that have stepped up in support and highlighted the value of the Collation to the community.

“The need has just become much greater than it was a week ago. This is a critical, critical shelter. Without this, if this shelter did not exist, we would have had 237 men on the streets of Orlando.” Krall said.

Martha Are, the CEO of the Homelessness Services Network of Central Florida, joined Krall at the press conference.

She said the incident speaks to the ongoing crisis the Greater Orlando community has with people experiencing homelessness.

"We know that our unsheltered population, people who cannot get into shelters, has increased 75% over the last 5 years," Are said. "That's because our shelters are already full. So, when we have a shelter like this that loses some capacity, it just exacerbates that."

The aftermath

Krall said the shelter would be completely out of commission for at least the next 10 days. After that, the organization hopes to be able to at least partially re-open. For now, a lot of organizations have expanded their capacities to allow for the sheltering and caring of the former residents.

"They will always have a roof over their head. We will ensure that, with our partners and with our community coming together, that none of the men who were staying here will be unsheltered," Krall said. "They are our top priority."

Krall said authorities are still investigating what caused the fire, but an earlier press release said they have ruled out arson. She did say it started in one of the dorms that is directly above the kitchen.

Firefighters had to break windows to reach the flames, Krall said. The battle left an aftermath of flooding and water damage, as well. She said all prescriptions necessary for the residents who are in treatment were saved, but most of their personal items and clothes were lost to the damages.

Krall said the organization is asking for financial donations through their website, as well as pillows, blankets, underwear, warm clothing, hygiene items, and non-perishable food items for the men.

Needing solutions

Lisa Portelli, the senior advisor to the Orlando mayor on homelessness and social services, said the city has been looking to build another shelter facility, although maybe not in the city of Orlando.

"Our community is asking us to bring forth additional shelter beds because of the rising increase in the unsheltered. So, yes, the city is actively pursuing another shelter but we have not located a site or a service provider at this time," Portelli said.

Krall said an insurance claim has been opened, so no photos or details of the damages can be shared at this time.

For Wednesday night at least, the men stayed at the Orlando Union Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army Orlando, and All Saints Church. That help is expected to continue through Thursday night.

“We are incredibly fortunate that no one was injured,” Krall said. “And we know that when a crisis happens, our Central Florida community comes together. Everyone is stepping up to help, but there is still a big need.”

Supplies and food should be delivered to the gate at the coalition, 18 North Terry Ave. in Orlando, during normal business hours.

Lillian Hernández Caraballo is a Report for America corps member. 

Lillian (Lilly) Hernández Caraballo is a bilingual, multimedia journalist covering housing and homelessness for WMFE, as a Report for America corps member.
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