It’s a world of laughter for some, but nearby some aren’t laughing.
Just a couple of miles from Florida’s Walt Disney World, a growing number of homeless families have found shelter in family-run hotels known as ‘mom-and-pop motels’.
But some owners say they’ve lost control over their properties when homeless families refuse to leave for not paying rent or for violating rules.
Dianna Chane is one such owner, she says homeless residents at her “Home Suite Home” hotel have cost her thousands of dollars.
“This is not a home, this is not a residence,” she says.
“And this is a very short-term solution as you make a long-term plan. And, I think they’re starting to get that now, but in the meantime and what the problem is, is independent owners, like myself in my particular case, I don’t want to speak for anyone else, is footing the bill. And I can’t afford it.”
According to Chane, she’s lost more than $200,000 USD in unpaid rooms since 2012.
Here, it’s a struggle for families trying find a home for their children.
When they moved from Georgia to Florida four years ago, Anthony and Candice Johnson found work at a barbecue restaurant and convenience store.
But their combined salaries fell short of what they needed to rent an apartment, so the couple and their two children have instead been hopping between cheap motel rooms along a Florida highway.
They’re among a growing number of families living in Florida hotels because they can’t afford anything else.
“I would love for my kids to have their own room. It’s hard raising kids in hotels, especially with the age they are,” says 24-year-old Candice.
The couple say they’ve found it hard to get their feet in the door, particularly with the combined expense of application fees, security deposits and first month’s rent needed for a place of their own.
“He wants to decorate his room. What do you want to do your room in? Spiderman? Yeah,” says Candice.
The problem has shined a light on the gap among those who work and live in the shadow of Walt Disney World, and the big-spending tourists who flock here.
On any given day, tourists pay nearly $100 USD per-person to get into Orlando’s theme parks. There, they may be waited on by homeless parents.
Starting minimum pay at Walt Disney World – the area’s largest employer – is $8.03 USD an hour, though that could increase to $10 USD under a contract being negotiated with the resort’s largest union group.
“We have this phenomenal tourism industry that’s amazing and it’s wonderful,” says Mary Downey, Community Health Center Director.
“But the folks who work in this industry, some of them are unable to make the living wage that they need because our housing in this community is so high.”
For two years, Theresa Muller has lived in motel rooms with her three young children, her father and her boyfriend.
But now they’re leaving Chane’s hotel because the owner says they’re violating the hotel’s policy of only four people per-room.
“I don’t want any problems, we have never gave any problems,” says Muller.
“We paid our rent, kids played outside, we never had problems, but they just said I guess there’s too many people and it’s so crowded.”
Chane is among several hotel owners now suing Osceola County Sheriff Bob Hansell to force his deputies to evict guests who violate hotel policy.
Under Florida’s lodging law, it’s a second-degree misdemeanour to stay in a room after being asked to leave.
Yet each time Chane has asked the sheriff’s office to intervene, she says deputies have refused even though they follow the law for brand-name hotels.
Chane says the office calls the issue a landlord-tenant dispute that should be handled in civil court.

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