OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. - Osceola County has declared the Star Motel on West Irlo Bronson Memorial Parkway unsafe, where more than a dozen families are living without power or water.
A bright, yellow sign posted on the front door by the county says the building is not safe.
“I was told this morning,” said resident Patty Vaughn. “I’m going to wait it out until they say 'Hey, you got to go!'”
Vaughn has been calling the motel home for the last 18 months.
Barbara Austria runs Kissimmee-Poinciana Homeless Outreach. One-by-one, she has been helping families move out of the motel for months.
“The property has been abandoned by the owner since January 2020 and it’s been in a steady decline,” Austria said.
There is garbage lying everywhere both outside and inside rooms where the doors have been left open. Flies swarm around soiled clothing and rotting food. Furniture has been ripped off mold-covered walls.
“The corona got us,” said Janet Martz who, along with her husband, has been living at the Star Motel for seven years.
Earlier this week, Osceola County stepped in to help those still staying at the defunct motel. They assisted Austria and other charitable organizations that got the families with children out first.
Austria brought in gas generators to supply power to rooms where other families are still living. Patty Vaughn said that the power and water have been shut off several times in the 18 months she has been living there.
This time, “the water’s only been off two weeks, maybe? The electric a little longer,” Vaughn said.
FOX 35 News saw her down at the pool using a palm frond to clear much off the water’s surface so she could fill two large five-gallon buckets. She then carried them upstairs so she could flush her toilet.
According to public records, the motel owner owes the county $163,000 dollars in property taxes: nearly $15,000 for the Kissimmee Utility Authority and over $90,000 to the local water company.
Even without basic necessities, residents are not ready to leave, saying that they have no place else to go.
“The families that are still here. They’re afraid if they leave their belongings will be trashed. So today my plan is to find storage units. Get their items into storage and continue moving until Friday,” Austria said.
She said part of the challenge is finding new places that are pet friendly because these folks don’t want to give up their furry friends.
“I’m going to be here as long as they let me and then I’m going to be in the woods,” Vaughn said.
Austria tells FOX 35 News her goal is to help find some find the Star Motel residents a permanent place to call home and jobs. Austria’s non-profit, www.kpho.org, is accepting donations to help find more permanent housing for Star Motel residents.
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