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Rev. Mary Lee Downey: “Addressing A Need Now And Preventing Homelessness For The Future.”

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Rev. Mary Lee Downey. Photo: Matthew Peddie. WMFE

The Rev. Mary Lee Downey is Orlando Sentinel’s Central Floridian of the Year. Downey is the founder and CEO of the Community Hope Center in Osceola County, a nonprofit organization that helps low-income and poverty-level families break down barriers to get the resources that they need.

The center started in 2013 as a small non-profit, but it has expanded its reach to other communities as the housing crisis in Central Florida got worse. This program-based project helps provide housing for families who are homeless or live in hotels and motels along Osceola County’s 192 Corridor.

“In some ways, we are addressing a need now and we are preventing homelessness for the future,” Downey tells Intersection’s Matthew Peddie. 

Downey said the center was donated five acres and has partnered with Ability Housing, an affordable housing agency, to build more than 200 housing units. Now, all they need are the funds to complete this project.

“If we don’t step into this space, if we don’t say that we’re committed to take this risk and to build some housing then no one else is going to either,” Downey said. “And so what we would hope is that as we step into this space and as we become developers ourselves, that other non-profits, other developers will make this a priority, that our community will make this a priority.”

The Community Hope Center also helps homeless people get an ID or driver’s licenses through a program called iDignity. They host identification clinics where people can get assistance with gathering the documents they need to obtain an ID. Downey said this is crucial because an ID is required to do many things such as book a hotel.

The center is now working to help other churches optimize the use of their space to provide housing for homeless people.

“We want to see that it doesn’t end with this property that we are building on, which is an old church property,” said Downey.

“We believe that churches actually have a really, really unique opportunity to meet the needs of the community in this way.”

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