Hundreds of residents living in motels just down the road from Disney World after work dried up

‘The roadway of broken dreams’: Hundreds of residents from Kissimmee are living in motels down the road from Disney World after losing their homes when work dried up and the tourists stopped coming as the pandemic struck

  • Florida’s Highway 192 runs up to the gates of the Walt Disney World Complex in Orlando
  • Lining the highway are dozens of hotels which are now housing hundreds of people made newly homeless
  • Once the pandemic struck, the theme parks and restaurants were forced to close and tourists stayed away
  • With the leisure industry on hold, many locals have had to move into cheap motels for a roof over their head
  • Photographer Zak Bennet went to have a look at the motels and described it as ‘third world’ conditions 

By James Gordon For

Published: | Updated:


Just outside the entrance to Disney World sit dozens of motels along Florida‘s Highway 192.

But the people who stay are not tourists visiting Orlando’s famous theme parks, but homeless people who have found they have no place else to go.

Disney closed Walt Disney World, its flagship theme park resort because of the global pandemic on March 16th and has recently opened with only fraction of the daily visitors allowed.

But the lack of tourists to the area is having a detrimental effect on those who relied on the Disney dollars providing safe and stable jobs for locals.

The Magic Castle Inn and Suites in Kissimmee, Florida was the set for Sean Baker’s gritty movie The Florida Project, which told of the day-to-day struggles of two residents of motel

The motels sit along Florida’s Highway 192, which is the roadway to Disney World. The have become shelters of last resort in Kissimmee, where there is a low-income housing shortage

Kissimmee does not have a single operating homeless shelter, so many people without resources end up in cheap motels

Barbie Austria, in red, director of the Kissimmee Poinciana Homeless Outreach, along with other volunteers delivers meals to homeless guests at a Studio 6 Motel in Kissimmee

Barbie Austria, far left, is the director of the Kissimmee Poinciana Homeless Outreach. She is working tirelessly and without pay to help place homeless families in motels across Kissimmee. She says the pandemic has created an unprecedented need in the community

After losing their jobs, it appears hundreds were forced to leave their homes. Dozens are now living in inexpensive motels for two weeks at a time while they try and work out what their next move should be, and hoping against hope that some form of normality might soon return. 

The motels recently introduced a two-week maximum rules so that people could not stay more than 14 days and claim residency which would then require the owners to obtain an eviction order to force them to leave.  

Photographer Zak Bennet visited some of the families living in the ‘decrepit’ motels.

‘It’s a really sad scene there. There’s not a single shelter in the city, so locals without resources end up in motels along the highway leading to Disney. Some people call it the “roadway to dreams”‘, he told   

‘It was a complete shock walking into some of these motels. It felt like a third world country and it was hard to believe witnessing people’s struggles like this.

‘Most of the people I met lost their work during COVID. They had mostly regular lives before it struck. For many people, Orlando has simply shut down.’

Austria, in red t-shirt,  runs a charity, Homeless Ministry Partnering with Poinciana Church. She says The Palm Motel is one of many deteriorating hotels on the roadway just outside Disney World where now many tourism industry workers are now living

Austria, right, is pictured with volunteers. Some of the workers now living in the motels once worked at Disney World, Universal Studios and other tourist attraction in the Orlando area. Now these folks live in motel rooms and pay nightly

Homeless families are found places to live until the tourist industry rebounds. Last week, Disney announced an additional 28,000 layoffs. The motels are likely to see even more local residents staying in its rooms

Motels along Florida’s Highway 192, which is the roadway to Disney World, have become shelters or a last resort in Kissimmee, where there is a low-income housing shortage

Osceola County, where Disney World sits, does not have a single homeless shelter. Most furloughed employees in the area who might already have been living paycheck to paycheck who have been unemployed for almost seven months are now left with only motels as their only option.

Bennet says that it is hard for those involved to see a way forward while tourism remains non-existent and the theme parks are only allowing a tiny percentage of their normal footfall.  

‘These people just can’t get ahead. Orlando has relied on tourism for so long that these folks are left with no options and they’re stuck in the middle of Florida. It seems that Orlando as a city doesn’t want to have anyone that doesn’t currently work in the industry which is possibly why there’s no affordable housing in the area and no homeless shelters in the region.’

Although the residents are not out on the street and do have a roof over their head for now, with no sign of tourists returning any time soon, their future is an uncertain one.  

‘A lot of these people feel hopeless, they feel very deeply that they are in the thick of this pandemic. They are paying nightly for their hotels. Every single penny goes towards their accommodation. Anything they earn from work goes towards the motel and they are left with nothing with no way to save anything at the end of each month.’ 

Anthony, a single father of two, sits in a stairwell at the Palm Motel down the road from Disney World in Kissimmee, Florida. Anthony is a chef in Old Town, a tourist hub in Kissimmee but since the COVID-19 pandemic he has had his work hours go from full-time to just two days a week

Barbie Austria, director of the Kissimmee Poinciana Homeless Outreach, works tirelessly and without pay to help place homeless families in hotels across Kissimmee

The contrast between the Disney’s Magic Kingdom just a few miles away and the Magic Castle Inn & Suites couldn’t be more marked

Outside the Palm Motel and Paradise Inn where countless homeless families have come to live right down the street from Disney World in Kissimmee. Hotels don’t allow guests for longer than two weeks to avoid guests claiming residency

Victor Augustin, 32, a father of eight, stands in hallway at the The Clarion Inn & Suites Kissimmee. Augustin has a cleaning company with his wife and he also worked in construction at Universal Orlando Resort. All of his work has dried up during the COVID-19 pandemic. He is currently living in motels for two weeks at a time with his eight children and wife


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