The slaying of a transient in a wooded area just half a mile west of tony College Park is the third killing in 10 months in the same camp frequented by homeless people, police said.
Orlando police on Tuesday arrested transient Robert Lloyd Davis, 47, on charges of first-degree murder in the death of a man whose body was found off John Young Parkway and W.D. Judge Drive. The victim's identity was withheld until relatives could be told.
Homeless camps offer open spaces, privacy and a chance to indulge in freedoms not allowed at shelters. But law-enforcement officials, advocates for the homeless and experts fear that homeless people are living under a false sense of security in the woods -- and they say the recent violence at the camps is proof.
"That area off John Young Parkway has been a homeless camp for the last 20 years," said Orlando police spokeswoman Sgt. Barbara Jones. "It's very dangerous and dark there at night and detectives said the area has booby traps to keep outsiders from entering the camps. The only time officers enter the area is when we receive a call of shots fired or a body in the woods."
In December, a homeless man at the camp shot another transient in the torso during an argument over a dog. Also found in that wooded area were the unidentified remains of a homeless woman. Police suspected foul play in her death.
Dennis Jackson bled to death on New Year's Day in 2006 at a camp off Technology Drive and John Yong Parkway -- about a half-mile south of Tuesday's killing -- after being stabbed in the leg. Charged was Richard Wayne Phillips, another transient.
But the violence isn't limited to the homeless camps on that stretch of road in Orlando. Four such homeless camps are in a three-mile stretch of John Young Parkway between Princeton and Columbia streets.
Deputies in January found the body of Michael Cowan in a homeless camp in the woods near Forsyth Road and Muskogee Street in east Orange County. Cowan had a gunshot wound to his torso.
Officials at the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida estimate that more than 7,500 transients live in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties.
Social scientist Jim Wright, a professor at the University of Central Florida who also sits on the coalition's board of directors, conducted a study in January and estimates as many as 2,000 homeless people could be living in east Orange County -- more than half of them in homeless camps in the woods.
Racial lines divide homeless people between the camps and the shelters, according to Wright.
"The men living in the woods are predominantly white and feel uncomfortable in the shelters, which house mostly black men. They feel vulnerable in that closed environment," Wright said. "However, some of these men have been diagnosed with mental issues and they self-medicate with alcohol. That could certainly lead to violent altercations with each other."
Coalition spokeswoman Muffet Robinson said that despite these dangers, some transients still prefer the fragile freedom of the outdoors.
"We have these rules so we can provide the homeless with a safe environment," Robinson said. "But some people choose to stay in the woods because there they can do whatever they want and not have to abide by anyone's rules."