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The “Surge” Begins To Count Orlando’s Homeless Veterans


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Scores of volunteers will fan out across Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties starting Monday to spend a week counting homeless veterans. Orlando’s goal is to get every veteran off the streets by the end of the year. 90.7’s Catherine Welch has been following this effort and joins us.

NIKKI: Good morning. So how does this count work?

CATHERINE: Volunteers will scour the streets, the woods, motels – anywhere you find the homeless, get basic information about veterans, and put their information into a database.

NIKKI: And from that database, work with the Veterans Administration to get them care and housing.

CATHERINE: Exactly

NIKKI: The goal is to have every homeless veteran in housing by the end of the year, there are about 300 homeless veterans on the streets of Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties. Getting them all into housing in a matter of months seems ambitious – is it possible?

CATHERINE: Homeless advocates certainly seem to think so. Now this isn’t just an Orlando goal – this is a goal set by the president a few years back. And a number of cities have met that goal.

NIKKI: Big cities like Orlando?

CATHERINE: Yes. Phoenix, Houston, Salt Lake City. In Florida, Miami is on track to get all of its homeless veterans off the streets. And let’s linger on Miami because they’ve been working at this for about a year. Ron Book, chairman of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust led the charge. He says they started out with more than 1,000 homeless vets and now there are about 20 on any given night.

NIKKI: And this is not an easy population to work with, there are several issues that factor into homelessness, such as mental health.

CATHERINE: And that’s where Book says building trust is key, and you’ve got to work on their time line. Miami had a tough time with the chronically homeless.  So for example, there were two veterans well known to Book and his staff who had been on the streets for 30 years. And they just got them into housing.

I asked Book how they did it, here’s what he had to say: “We worked them, we worked them, and then we worked them,” he said. We used other veterans, some who had formally been homeless, some that had not. And just worked to convince them to access the continuum of care.”

NIKKI: So Catherine, the plan is to get Orlando’s homeless veterans into housing first – that means you get them permanent shelter then deal with the surrounding issues be it substance abuse or employment.

CATHERINE: That’s right. The VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development will play a big role in that.

NIKKI: It sounds expensive.

CATHERINE: It is. So Ron Book has worked a long time fighting homelessness in Miami, and he says it takes by-in from big organizations like the VA and HUD, but that’s only one piece.

Here’s Book’s recipe for addressing homelessness across the board: “You need a plan, you need money, you need leadership. We have a 1% food and beverage tax in Miami-Dade County, and 85 % of that goes to ending homelessness and 15% goes to our domestic violence oversight board. That raises almost $22 million a year, just from that revenue stream alone.”

NIKKI: That’s a lot of money.

CATHERINE: Certainly sounds like it, and Book challenges Orlando to create a similar fund.

NIKKI: Other cities have gotten their homeless veterans off the streets, you mentioned Salt Lake City. I understand you talked with folks there as well, how did they do it?

CATHERINE: Their challenge in the beginning was the process. So they’d find a veteran, get their name, then try to get them to the VA for information such as discharge status, and the whole process could take up to 100 days. So they streamlined it and put a VA representative inside the shelters. Now the process is just a few days.

NIKKI: Catherine, you’ll be following along in the count in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties.

CATHERINE: That’s right. I’ll be out with volunteers this week as they find and count the homeless veterans and then I’ll report back in next week’s Intersection how it went. And follow up from there as we head to the goal of December 31st.


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About Catherine Welch

Catherine Welch

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