Affordable housing crisis takes its toll on homeless local veterans

TAMPA, Florida. Housing in America is becoming a luxury. Rising costs of rent, home ownership and supplies are making it impossible for families to have a roof over their heads.

While the housing crisis affects many families, it also affects our homeless veterans, including Howard Brooks.

“I knew the army would give me a chance to get back on my feet with my chest out. I think that was the most important thing for me,” Brooks explained.

But Brooks lives with his dogs in his truck, which he says was never part of his plans after being discharged from the military. The difficulties of life, as well as the pandemic and its domino effect on the economy, brought Brooks to St. Vincent de Paul.

For 60 days, a Catholic non-profit organization placed him and his two help dogs in a motel. But he is not alone.

“There were several veterans in this hotel, as well as citizens from St. Vincent de Paul. And after the program, there was nothing else, so you see the same people around the hotel with dogs,” Brooks said.

“I don’t think we can get out of this situation fast enough with new divisions,” said Michale Raposa, CEO of St. Vincent de Paul Cares.

However, Raposa is working to change that. There is no doubt that there is a housing crisis and our veterinarians have been victims of it, but he said that work has been done to find more permanent housing for them.

“When St. Vincent de Paul began working with veterans in Pinellas County, there were 2,850 homeless veterans in the shelter or on the street. Today there are less than 300,” Rapoza explained.

Rapoza noted the availability of funds and the flexibility of the Stafford Act at the start of the pandemic to get veterans off the streets.

“At the start of the pandemic, we had 558 people in hotels for 14 days without duplicates,” Rapoza said.

He added that more than 90% of veterans have been relocated to permanent housing. But the problem that Raposa and others are now discovering is the affordability of apartments and persuading landlords to rent to veterans.

Lonnie Williams has worked with veterans in the Virginia health care system, Bay Pines, for over ten years. In an ideal world, Williams would like veterans to live in project housing, have access to mental health counselors, case managers, and those who understand our veterinarians.

“We have veterans in their 70s and 80s who are in their cars until we can step in and try to get them into one of our programs and on this path to try and get them permanent housing,” Williams said. “Our veterans have contributed to the service of our country, and many of them face their own struggles.”

Williams acknowledges that housing for veterans has improved. Last year, 630 veterans participated in the Virginia Health System in Bay Pines, and this year it hits its target again.

Even with such a successful record, people like Brooks continue to fight and fight for survival.

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