Header Ads

In the shadow of Disney, living life on the margins


In the shadow of Disney, living life on the margins
US news | The Guardian  /  Richard Luscombe in Kissimmee, Florida

These days, Tommy Delgado barely notices the helicopter flights full of affluent tourists coming and going just across the street from the Magic Castle Inn and Suites. After living in the same poky hotel room for five years, and now sharing it with his fiance, their 19-month-old son, two dogs and a cat, he has become immune to the existence of the helipad and the windows rattling from every lift-off of another aerial tour of Disney World's theme parks, a few miles to the west.

Delgado and his family are part of Kissimmee's hidden homeless, those living paycheck to paycheck, or in many cases on no paycheck at all, in cramped and semi-permanent accommodation in cheap motels behind the neon-lit, tourist attraction-laden facade of Highway 192, the pathway to Disney. Most will never be able to afford the price of theme park tickets, far less a helicopter ride above it.

Tommy Delgado.
Tommy Delgado. Photograph: Richard Luscombe for the Guardian

It is a dark existence brought vividly into focus by director Sean Baker in his gritty movie The Florida Project, which tells of the day-to-day struggles of two residents of the Magic Castle, a six-year-old livewire named Moonee and her mom Halley, a single mother who turns to prostitution when waitressing falls through.

The story is fictional and the real-life Magic Castle, a shabby, bright pink, low-budget hotel where Baker shot the film, is nowhere near as seedy as its big-screen portrayal. But the scenes of poverty, depression and deprivation it conveys, and the juxtaposition of living in the direct shadow of Disney World, the self-proclaimed happiest place on earth, are all too real to Delgado. He has been a stay-at-home dad to his toddler, Mason, since leaving his last job as a trucker three months ago.

"Some of the stuff in the movie, this really does happen," he said. "There's a lot of people who live in these rooms with their kids, there's a lot of drug addicts that need help, they don't get that help here.

"This area is good in certain parts but there's still crime, there's prostitution and that happens a lot. There's guys that will come from Disney and rent a room for just 45 minutes, that's a part of it, you'll see it in the movie. People will call social services if they see something going on, it's happened.

"There was a woman living here with five kids in a small room, that was pretty tough. You look at those places, you know where you should be and you know where you shouldn't be."

The stigma attached being a permanent hotel-dweller is one of the hardest obstacles to overcome, Delgado said.

"I tried to finance a car and they didn't want to give me the loan because I live in a hotel, they called me homeless. They said, 'You can't show that you pay rent so why should we give you a car?'

"When you go for jobs and you tell them you live in a hotel they look at you like, 'Why should we hire you?' So the people out here, they don't want to try."

Willem Dafoe and Brooklynn Prince in The Florida Project.
Willem Dafoe and Brooklynn Prince in The Florida Project. Photograph: AP

Things are improving for Delgado, 30, who says he moved into the Magic Castle five years ago when he fell victim to a property scam. A fake landlord rented him a foreclosed apartment with a bogus lease and he was evicted. He begins a new job driving trucks across the country this week, although it will take him away from home for six weeks at a time.

That will leave his fiancée, Dilma, to look after their child, with help from his mother Gladys and 22-year-old brother Christian, who works at a fast-food restaurant nearby. Between them, the family shares two tiny rooms at the Magic Castle. They make ends meet by helping out the owner at the front desk.

"The owners are really nice," Delgado said. "I fell behind on rent a couple of times and they came up and said, 'Do you want to work here?' and I said OK. If you're backed into a corner they'll lend you money or let you have money and let you work it out another way."

'This place is ghetto enough'

Kissimmee, rather than Orlando, is Disney World's unofficial dormitory town, home to many workers plus the majority of tourists who flock to central Florida for the sunshine and theme parks. Despite its position at the heart of the state's booming tourist industry, filled with restaurants and attractions as diverse as airboat rides and even a machine gun shooting range, the statistics are perhaps surprising: there are high levels of crime and a poverty rate of 25.6%, according to the US census bureau, more than 10% above the national average.

Even so, Delgado is keen for people to know that life for the motel dwellers is not always as grim as it sounds.

"Just because everyone lives in a hotel, doesn't mean they're all the same," he said. "There are people that work, there's a woman here on the second floor who works two jobs to look after her disabled sister. Not everybody's on drugs, even if the movie made it look that way."

Robin Wilde.
Robin Wilde. Photograph: Richard Luscombe for the Guardian

Another long-term resident of the Magic Castle is Robin Wilde, 57, from Oregon. She arrived in Florida about eight years ago after living in California, Nevada, Texas and Pennsylvania. "Stuff happened, it's a long story, I met someone online and moved to Philadelphia," she said.

"I was depressed every day because it was a bad situation. I wasn't getting beaten up or nothing but it was bad, my sister-in-law said come to Florida, and if it wasn't for her I wouldn't have come."

Wilde said she had a number of jobs before winding up at the Magic Castle, where she also works part-time. By the time the rent is deducted from her paycheck, she said, there isn't a lot left over for the essentials. She knows it's not an ideal existence but accepts her prospects are limited.

"There's a lot of stress but all I need is a roof over my head, a room to sleep in and I'm good," she said. "I've been homeless and I can tell you it's a lot worse for a woman than for a man."

Wilde appeared briefly as an extra in The Florida Project, which she said gives accurate glimpses into the struggles of a deprived underclass.

"This place is ghetto enough," she said, talking about the more squalid areas of Kissimmee. "It's a big wake up call to some people, there are hotels worse than ours where they still have weekly rates for people like that.

"That used to be a thing here, now it's a thing of the past. A lot of them would come in, not pay any rent, stay and stay and stay, pay 20 bucks every so often, and sometimes still go to Disney and have their blast. It's not fair but it is what it is."

As well as phasing out longer-term stays, other than for those residents "grandfathered" in, the Magic Castle's owners have also imposed a $50 deposit for guests. According to Wilde, some still try to find a way around that.

"They say they're leaving at four or five in the morning when the office isn't open so they want their cash deposit back at nine at night," she said. "That gives them the money to go out and buy their booze, come back and tear the place up.

"A lot of the more crazy stuff in the movie does not happen here but it is based on a lot of reality. I'm a little embarrassed about it because it's sadly true. You do get honeymooners coming to the Magic Castle thinking they're coming to some great, grand resort by the Magic Kingdom, and they end up disappointed when they wind up here. That happens."



Original Article: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/15/in-the-shadow-of-disney-living-life-on-the-margins

No comments

Singapore central bank warns against investing in cryptocurrencies

Singapore central bank warns against investing in cryptocurrencies Reuters: Top News SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore's central bank issu...