1. News
  2. /
  3. Military

Washington comes to town to discuss homeless vets

Local agency leaders called on members of Congress to increase national affordable housing options as a solution to veteran homelessness
A homeless Vietnam War veteran in Clearwater answers questions for a Pinellas County homeless survey. A shortage of affordable housing is considered a major cause of homelessness among vets in the Tampa Bay area. [Times files]
A homeless Vietnam War veteran in Clearwater answers questions for a Pinellas County homeless survey. A shortage of affordable housing is considered a major cause of homelessness among vets in the Tampa Bay area. [Times files]
Published Sep. 16, 2019
Updated Sep. 16, 2019

NEW PORT RICHEY — Access to affordable housing remains one of the biggest challenges to ending homelessness among veterans in Tampa Bay, experts said Monday at a congressional hearing.

But members of a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on Veterans’ Affairs also heard encouraging news. Homelessness among veterans in Florida has effectively been cut in half since 2011, said Daniel Burgess, executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, with the latest total for the state coming in at about 2,543 cases.

Burgess and others noted these statistics often understate the problem because the homeless can be hard to count. Some live in their cars, for example, or couch surf among friends and acquaintances.

“One homeless veteran is one too many,” said Democratic Congressman Mike Levin of California, who hosted a similar hearing last year near San Diego.

While various solutions and challenges were brought up at Monday’s meeting, the shortage of affordable housing options in the Tampa Bay area dominated the conversation.

“(It’s) the greatest obstacle being faced across the nation today,” said Michael Raposa, chief executive officer of St. Vincent de Paul in St. Petersburg, which provides assistance to the homeless.

Raposa noted that while it was great to see federal leadership take an interest in solving local homelessness issues, local solutions were technically already in place by way of the state’s affordable housing trust fund, which for years has seen its funds diverted to other areas.

“If we could convince the state of Florida to release the Sadowski trust fund we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Raposa said to applause.

RELATED: Gov. Ron DeSantis should end the raids on Florida’s affordable housing trust fund

David Lambert, chairman of the Pasco County Housing Authority, said that even private funding has become an issue for affordable housing projects.

Lambert noted that his agency purchased property to build approximately 78 units of veterans family housing and mental health housing but they can’t get banks to offer a loan.

At the hearing, he requested that members of Congress work to “create a regulation and a funding stream that gives enough capital to obtain financing from private banks or federally backed loans specifically to build veterans and mental health housing.”

Several speakers at Monday’s hearing, including U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Tarpon Springs. said a more holistic approach is needed for homeless vets that takes into account employment opportunities, transportation and mental health access and affordable child care options.

“Without helping veterans find meaningful employment we are only providing them temporary housing and not setting them up for positive long-term success,” Bilirakis said.

Mary White, an Army veteran who once found herself homeless with her one-year-old son, said that if it weren’t for local agencies like St. Vincent de Paul or federal veteran voucher programs, she wouldn’t have been able to find work that led her to stability.

“Without child care assistance it would have been virtually impossible to succeed,” White said. “Many single parents remain trapped in the system due to this barrier alone.”


  1. This undated file photo provided by the FBI shows Mohammed Alshamrani. The United States is preparing to remove more than a dozen Saudi military students from a training program and return them to their home country after an investigation into a deadly shooting by Saudi aviation student Alshamrani at a Florida navy base in December 2019, a U.S. official told The Associated Press. [AP]
    Many of the 21 cadets had contact with child pornography and possessed jihadist or anti-American material, William Barr said.
  2. MacDill Air Force Base now requires all visitors looking to enter the base to show either Department of Defense ID or valid photo ID with a base pass. [Air Force photo] [HANDOUT  |  Air Force]
    U.S. installations have increased security as tensions with Iran run high, and that includes the bases and veterans’ facilities in the Tampa Bay area.
  3. MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa was briefly on lockdown Friday morning after reports of an armed person near the Tanker Way Gage. The lockdown has been lifted and all gates except the Tanker Way Gate have been lifted. [Times (2018)]
    McDill Air Force Base is investigating a report of an armed person, but a lockdown at the base has been lifted
  4. Rescue workers carry the body of a victim of an Ukrainian plane crash among debris of the plane in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi) [EBRAHIM NOROOZI  |  AP]
    The cause of the crash is currently under investigation
  5. Coffins of Gen. Qassem Soleimani and others who were killed in Iraq by a U.S. drone strike, are carried on a truck surrounded by mourners during a funeral procession, in the city of Kerman, Iran, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020. A stampede erupted on Tuesday at a funeral procession for a top Iranian general killed in a U.S. airstrike last week, killing 35 people and injuring 48 others, state television reported. (AP Photo) [AP]
    The stampede took place in Kerman, the hometown of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, as the procession got underway.
  6. Traci Lenz said this is what her kitchen vent looked like even after mold remediation at her MacDill Air Force Base home. [Courtesy of Traci Lenz]
    Over the last year, families reported mold and other problems in military housing at MacDill and other bases.
  7. A woman mourns in a demonstration over the U.S. airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Tehran, Iran, Friday. Iran has vowed "harsh retaliation" for the U.S. airstrike near Baghdad's airport that killed Tehran's top general and the architect of its interventions across the Middle East, as tensions soared in the wake of the targeted killing. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi) [VAHID SALEMI  |  AP]
    Iran vowed “harsh retaliation” for a U.S. airstrike near Baghdad’s airport that killed a top Iranian general.
  8. Soldiers board a C-17 aircraft Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020 at Fort Bragg, N.C., to be deployed in Iraq. (Melissa Sue Gerrits/The Fayetteville Observer via AP) [MELISSA SUE GERRITS  |  AP]
    The President ordered about 750 U.S. soldiers deployed to the Middle East as about 3,000 more prepare for possible deployment in the next several days.
  9. U.S. soldiers fire tear gas towards protesters who broke into the U.S. embassy compound, in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. Dozens of angry Iraqi Shiite militia supporters broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday after smashing a main door and setting fire to a reception area, prompting tear gas and sounds of gunfire. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed) [KHALID MOHAMMED  |  AP]
    The embassy attack, one of the worst in recent memory, followed deadly U.S. airstrikes on Sunday that killed 25 fighters of the Iran-backed militia in Iraq, the Kataeb Hezbollah.
  10. Those who play in a foursome with Julius Okrzesik marvel at how straight he drives the ball. The World War II veteran, 99, is also regarded as one of the better putters at the Bardmoor Golf and Tennis Club in Seminole. [MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE  |  Times]
    Julius Okrzesik, who flew 87 missions over Europe, never misses a round of golf with his buddies each Tuesday.