'Homeless hotel' in Haines City facing legal troubles

By Rick Elmhorst, Anchor\Reporter
Last Updated: Monday, September 14, 2015, 5:01 PM EDT

A Polk County motel that takes in homeless and needy people is facing legal trouble with a state agency.

The Agency for Health Care Administration says the Stay Plus motel and its operator, the COSAC Foundation, are operating as an unlicensed assisted living facility.

The Stay Plus motel was taken over by homeless advocate Sean Cononie back in May. That came after the city of Hollywood, Florida had paid Cononie nearly $5 million to shut down his homeless shelter there and agree to never return. City leaders believed the shelter was hindering economic development.

More than 100 people staying at the shelter followed Cononie to the Stay Plus motel on Highway 27 just south of Haines City.

AHCA recently conducted visits to the motel and reported that staff members were providing minor health care services to some residents, including helping them monitor blood sugar and aiding them with bathing. AHCA said Stay Plus and COSAC did not have the proper staff and license to provide such services.

Double amputee Frank Barco has been affiliated with COSAC and Cononie for years. He is upset that the state is coming after the organization.

“If it wasn't for them these people would be on the street,” he said. “They wouldn't have any help at all.”

Volunteer Cynthia Malvita said she will continue to help out at the motel. She believes she is doing the work of God.

“I'm willing to go to jail,” she said about AHCA’s orders for Stay Plus to stop providing some kinds of care to residents she considers family.

AHCA said it could fine the motel up to $1,000 a day for violations and could refer it to the Florida Attorney General’s office.

Cononie and his attorney will have a conference call Tuesday with AHCA to try to resolve the issues.