Scott Billue, who founded the Matthew’s Hope homeless ministry 11 years ago, goes live on Facebook at 1 p.m. each Friday with his Ask Pastor Scott segment. This is the best way to talk about the true needs of the homeless and to address the rumors about the organization spread weekly on social media, he said.
The most recent misinformation he has had to correct is regarding multiple trespass eviction notices that have been issued.
“More than 50 homeless men and women, (and) a few children, have been trespassed out of their camps between Ocoee and Winter Garden in the last two months,” Billue said. “And it started right between Thanksgiving and Christmas. What happened is people started commenting online.
“(A local resident) really created the biggest part of the problem,” he said. “He started going into the woods by Circle K on Avalon (Road) and taking pictures and showing people where they’re at. He went in with a worship team with instruments; police started getting complaints from people in the nearby neighborhood.”
People attributed the activity on the side of the road to “drug deals,” he said.
“That camp has been there at least 20 years in one level or another,” he said. “There have been minor complaints, but nothing major.”
He said he went on Facebook to ask people not to publicize the homeless camps and, in return, was accused of trying to keep others from helping the homeless.
DONATIONS THAT HELP
Billue is grateful to those who invest time and money to “help us help them help themselves,” as the Matthew’s Hope motto goes. But he wants people to understand that the needs of the homeless run deeper than what can be reached with a one-time donation directly to someone on the streets.
“We processed over $2 million worth of goods and services last year on top of $1.5 million in cash,” he said.
The homeless folks at Matthew’s Hope can get food, toiletries, clothes, haircuts and showers, in addition to the medical and mental health services offered.
“We can’t get everyone off the street, but we can make sure they are taken care of,” Billue said. “We can make sure they are getting their veterans’ benefits, medicine, glasses. … A lot of these guys who try to help, all they do is give blankets and a sandwich. We helped one of our guests who was 55 years old, legally blind, he had cataracts . … We got him surgery.
“If all we did was give him a blanket and a sandwich, he would still be 55 and blind,” Billue said.
In the last 12 months, during the span of this pandemic, Matthew’s Hope experienced a 300% jump in the number of weekly visits by homeless folks. This followed a 43% jump in the number of people served in 2019.
Matthew’s Hope was notified last week that 10 properties in the community — including nine in Ocoee — will be trespassed by the end of this week, Billue said. This is in addition to the three others that have taken place in the last seven weeks.
And the police departments are not to blame, he said; they are following the directions of the property owners, many of whom are making plans to develop their land.
“The human beings living in our local woods are now becoming the people living on our streets,” Billue said. “There are no services or shelter available within 11 miles of our outreach center … in Winter Garden. Everything else available in Orange County is located just a few blocks from one another in downtown Orlando.”
Every Tuesday and Thursday, three teams go out to the camps. The first delivers personal protection equipment and picks up dirty laundry; the second team goes out to provide food, clothing and hygiene; and the third team is the medical crew that dresses wounds and makes sure medications are available to those who need them.
“Plus, we provide weekly laundry service, showers, assistance with food stamps, Florida ID’s, COVID testing and more,” Billue said.
For information on donating, visit matthewshopeministries.org.
WHAT REALLY HELPS
“People ask why we are so picky about what we ask for,” Billue said. “Do you know why we ask for white socks? There are no dyes in them. Some of them are diabetic, and you don’t want to give them dyes. Do you know why we ask for running shoes? Because they’re breathable and washable. Why travel-size and not hotel-size toiletries? They are traveling with a backpack, there’s no street value (to small items), and we want them to return to Matthew’s Hope for help.
“Some groups like to put together packets with a washcloth and other items (the homeless) don’t need,” he said. “Do you know what they do? They go through it and pick out what they can use and throw away the rest. And it creates litter.”
Since moving to its larger outreach center at 611 Business Park Blvd., Suite 101, Matthew’s Hope has more space to offer more services and is able to accept additional donations. This has led to a problem, though, with people dropping off donations the organization cannot use or leaving bags of items at the back door after hours, Billue said.
Donations left at night are attracting thieves, he said. After Matthew’s Hope spent $500 on new locks, thieves started bringing bolt cutters, he said.
Another $3,500 was just spent on new cameras to monitor the back of the building.
“That could have been used on things other than that,” he said.
“Then we’ve got people leaving us broken lamps, old worn-out small appliances, dolls missing an eye or leg, books that look they were in a flood,” Billue said. “Someone left seven hockey sticks. What is a homeless person going to do with a hockey stick?”
Matthew’s Hope staff and volunteers are spending much of their time sorting through bags of donations, which is frustrating when about 10% of it is useable, he said. The Salvation Army picked up between 50 and 100 bags of items useless to West Orange County’s homeless population.
Donations are accepted from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and by calling (407) 905-9500 to make an appointment.
“Dealing with the theft and donations of stuff we don’t need has cost us about $40,000 just to do that,” Billue said. “That’s $40,000 that could have housed a family, could have given someone an opportunity to go to school. That’s a lot of money.”
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.