- October 5, 2022
Matthew’s Hope is expanding again, this time to offer mental-health services and a daycare to West Orange County’s homeless population.
“I can’t tell you how many people that — if somebody had stepped in early and gave them an opportunity for counseling and, if meds were necessary, would have connected them with the meds they needed — they wouldn’t be living on the streets right now,” founder Scott Billue said. “The people who need the most help can’t afford it.”
ADDRESSING MENTAL HEALTH
Matthew’s Hope has previously partnered with individual mental-health counselors who supported the mission and offered a discounted rate to the organization.
This addition will allow the ministry to contract with a group of counselors, which will give the homeless easier access to help.
Each Tuesday, clients in need will go for an initial assessment for mental health care before being assigned to a counselor.
“I can’t tell you how big this is,” Billue said. “No one has done this. The biggest challenge in homelessness is mental health care. … it’s a game changer.”
He said these services will apply to individuals who are battling depression because of homelessness or a job loss, but it also will benefit those who have a chemical imbalance and need medication.
The service — and possibly the medicine — will be free to Matthew’s Hope clients.
“I’m not saying we can save everyone, because we can’t,” Billue said. “But I think we can make a big difference with the people who need the help, like the ones who have no support system. … We are, in some cases, people’s family.”
This mental-health component is one piece of the organization’s plans for the final consolidation of all its services in one place. It is being added to the Tuesday Outreach program, which will be housed in the remaining 2,500 square feet at Matthew’s Hope’s offices off Story Road, in Winter Garden. This space will include the mental health care office, as well as additional classroom space for various classes on life skills, such as budgeting, resume building and interviewing.
Built-in showers, a hair salon and indoor feeding area also are included in the plans.
“Right now, in our current location, we’re fighting weather constantly,” Billue said of the Tuesday Outreach on Ninth Street. “It’s either too hot or too cold or too wet.”
Plans call for the expansion project to be open by August.
“I tell people I don’t care what happened to you or what you did; what’s important is, where do we go from here? You can keep dragging that crap around like an anchor, or you can pile it up to push yourself over the fence.”
— Scott Billue, Matthew’s Hope Ministry founder
The staff at Matthew’s Hope is experiencing a rapid rise in homeless individuals and families on Tuesdays and is considering expanding those services to a second day each week.
On average, 10 new people each week are seeking services, Billue said.
“We are processing 60 to 70 people per week, 30 or so requiring some level of medical care,” he said. “We have over 400 currently on our active list, meaning we have seen them at least twice in the past 90 days. Some come once or more a week, while others we see once a month.”
The lack of affordable housing is a problem, he said.
“But it doesn’t mean these people are going to go away,” he said. “The mentality is, ‘If we don’t have affordable housing, we won’t have the affordable housing issue, meaning we won’t have any homeless.’
“That’s simply not true,” he said.
TOWN HALL MEETING
Billue is holding a community meeting from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, May 4, at the Winter Garden Elks Lodge, 700 N. Ninth St., Winter Garden. He will discuss homelessness in the community.
Hear some do's and don'ts, learn about the growing problem and discover what role the public can play in making a difference. RSVP to (407) 905-9500 or [email protected].
“There’s a sunami about to hit, and no one’s paying attention,” Billue said. “You’re seeing more homeless people on the street than you ever have. … When you have development, if you see a coyote run out or a fox or a bear, wait long enough and you’ll see a homeless person come out.”
TAKING CARE OF CHILDREN
The Firm Foundation Preschool can teach up to 20 children from age 2-and-one-half to 6 but typically leaves a few spots open in case a homeless family comes in with a need.
Now, parents of children even younger can benefit from having a safe place for them while they work.
The new Firm Foundation Daycare will care for up to 20 children from age 1 to potty-training age and will operate the same Montessori program as the preschool with age-appropriate teaching, learning and playing. It will take over the space on Ninth Street being vacated by the Tuesday outreach program.
Billue said some of the Firm Foundation children have been offered scholarships at area private schools because the children already know the Montessori method.
“They’re being taught basic skills at a very young age, everything from how to have manners to how to hold their fork, how to button their buttons, brush their teeth, put their plates away. They’re fully capable if you work with them.
“These kids will go home, wherever home is, and they’ll hold their fork properly, they talk about what they learned at school, and the parents haven’t learned it,” Billue said.