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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Highway To Disney World, Is A Nightmare To Homeless Families.

Melissa was always on the move, wandering in and out of people's rooms, going from pool to basketball court and back to pool, climbing up the big trees by the parking lot. Even before she came to the hotel her life was a blur of movement -- six houses in four years and never more than a year at the same school. But soon the moving around would be over. That's what her parents said anyway. Her mom was expecting a check from the government and when it came they'd finally have the funds to move into a real house where Melissa would have her own room.

Melissa is 12. She moved into the hotel two years ago with her dad and brother and probably knew the place better than anyone. When the kids played man hunt she'd crawl into a hidden hole in the hedge along the highway. When she wanted to shock her friends she'd show them the dirty drawings on the back of the shed. When she got mad, which happened more and more often these days now that her mom was trying to be part of the family again, she disappeared into the woods for hours at a time, scrambling over the vines and branches like an explorer. She'd make her way down a narrow path along the swamp, past the clearing where the hobos tossed their empty bottles, to a secret spot where she'd hide out until she felt calm enough to venture back into Room 413.

The room is one of thousands on Highway 192, one of the main arteries leading to the throbbing heart of the Central Florida economy that is Disney World. Hotels and motels line the road on both sides, places with names like the Xanadu Motel, the Paradise Inn. A few years ago they were filled with tourists, and a traveler can still glimpse remnants of those days, like the roadside establishments that charge 20 bucks for a helicopter ride and the drugstores where the toys and T-shirts capitalize on the irresistible appeal of cartoon princesses. But after the economy collapsed and the flow of tourists slowed, a new type of visitor began showing up at the registration desks: People like Melissa's dad, who lost their jobs and couldn't spare $1,200 to put down the security and last month's rent on an apartment.

"At first I thought it was kind of nice," Melissa said as she sunned herself by the pool one day this spring. "But after a while you get kind of tired of it."

Two years is a long time for an adventure.

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