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Video: Volunteers rally downtown for homelessness awareness. Video by Gabby Baquero, Central Florida Future

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Standing on the sidewalk of Church Street, holding cardboard signs and begging — not for money — but for compassion, about 150 community volunteers shared facts and statistics regarding Central Florida’s homeless population Wednesday.

The rally was organized by the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, a network of activists and advocates dedicated to providing the homeless with access to resources, such as transitional housing, food and rehabilitation services, that can help improve their circumstances.

Although the rally is annual, this event was particularly special because Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer declared Nov. 18 as Orlando’s official Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Day. The mayor gave the proclamation directly to the organization and Brent Totter, the president and CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida.

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Totter said he is driven by the inner satisfaction that comes from “seeing people in need and orchestrating a solution” to help them, and added that his organization feeds and houses 600 homeless people every day.

According to the 2014 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, Florida makes up 7 percent of the nation’s total homeless population.

A 2015 study published by the Council on Homelessness states that Florida has about 35,964 homeless people, which decreased 13 percent from the estimate of 41,335 in 2014.

Of the 2015 estimate, 18.9 percent were individuals under 18 years of age, and 28 percent had disabling conditions, such as substance abuse, physical disabilities, mental illness or HIV.

After his fist volunteering experience in the organization, Jesse Zito, a 30-year-old who works at the Orlando Science Center, said he was shocked by the number of homeless people under 18. He has since been helping the organization by teaching science classes to the kids for five years.

“This is a place where there’s a pretty large homeless population, and sometimes it goes unseen,” Zito said. “It’s nice to bring some awareness to the issue so people understand that there are people in this community that need to be taken cared of, that need help getting cleaned up, getting a job, getting some food in their belly, getting a place to store their stuff, and being able to assimilate back into society.”

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Gabby Baquero is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.

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