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Orlando International Airport dealing with rising numbers of homeless people

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Posted at 1:27 PM, Nov 15, 2019

ORLANDO-- It's the kind of scene you'd expect to cause people to stare: A dozen airport security workers, and police officers, some with assault rifles, surrounding a man in the terminal.

WESH 2 Investigates was at Orlando International the day after Hurricane Dorian blew through in September.

A man appeared to be loitering. Police issued him a trespass order, and escorted him from the airport.

It was a different story for another man last May. He was questioned for nearly 30 minutes, declined to leave, and was taken away in handcuffs.

As we walked around the airport, we saw other, apparently homeless people like a man found sleeping in front of the ticket counter. When an airport worker checked on him, he said he was waiting for a flight, but after she walked away, minutes later he walked out.

"The community does have a homeless population and I would be remiss to say that they don't visit the airport because we know that they do," said Airport Operations Aviation Authority Senior Director Tom Draper.

He admits the public spaces of one of the world's largest airports with air conditioning, restrooms and food, is inviting, but is strictly for passengers and other patrons. "If they do not have business here, they need to move on! And if we have to we put 'trespass' on them.

Records obtained by WESH 2 Investigates from the airport and police show that last year 297 trespass warnings were issued. This year they're on track for 372. That's a two year total of 666.

And the airport says that's just a third of the total number of vagrants asked by police and airport workers each year, to leave the property, without being trespassed at all.

Besides loitering, records indicate some are trespassed for "harassing passengers" and "panhandling."

Often, the airport says, the solution is the bus. The aviation authority has been buying blocks of tickets to provide the homeless with free rides from the terminal. Many of whom just come right back.

Reporter: It seems to me just a lot of moving the homeless back and forth, and back and forth. Is that the best way to handle it?

Tom Draper: "I don't know if it's the best way to handle it but it is the way that we have right now and, it works!"

Most passengers we talked with agree, an airport is no home for the homeless. But many don't like the airport's method of busing them off the property.

The aviation authority tells WESH 2 Investigates, it's talking with homeless advocacy groups to come up with ways to discourage vagrants from making the airport a home as well as ways to provide them the services they need.