On Veterans Day, 50 ex-military members got the one thing they never should have had to go without: a home.
Hillsborough County, in collaboration with the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative and the city of Tampa, launched the rapid rehousing program dubbed Operation Reveille to keep pace with the national goal of ending homelessness among veterans by 2015.
A county survey in February identified 250 homeless veterans, including 134 who were living on the streets or in emergency shelters. Operation Reveille dramatically reduced those numbers in one day by following a housing-first model that moves people directly from the streets into their own homes and then provides services to help them retain those homes.
"We are not just giving them a key to an apartment. We are providing 12 months of wraparound services to give them the support they need to be self-sufficient," said Julie Watkinson, spokeswoman for the event.
Those services include intensive case management, employment services, health care and financial counseling. After a year, veterans may still be eligible for assistance based on their needs.
"This is housing-first on steroids," said Antoinette Hayes-Triplett, CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative. "Housing people in one day is almost unheard of."
Triplett oversaw a similar rehousing program in St. Louis in her previous role as manager of the city's Homeless Services Division. In Tampa, she set out to create a model that could be adopted by other cities.
"The goal is to put a system of collaboration in place to make sure a veteran never sleeps on the streets again," Triplett added.
That system brings together government agencies, faith-based organizations, nonprofit agencies and businesses. Funding for Operation Reveille is coming from federal, local government and private sources.
The effort that made Operation Reveille possible was on display Nov. 5 at the Palms at University on N 19th Street, where four apartments were being prepared for veterans. Representatives from Ashley Furniture, which donated items for all 50 apartments in the program, assembled beds and tables while volunteers stocked the homes with everything from linens to pantry staples. Hillsborough County Commissioners Sandy Murman and Les Miller stopped by to lend a hand.
"As a veteran, you don't know how much it means to me to see this happen," Miller said.
Similar scenarios played out over the course of the next few days until apartments in complexes across the county were ready for their new residents.
On Tuesday morning, a bugle filled Port Tampa Bay with the sounds of reveille as veterans lined up outside Terminal 6. Katie Jordan and her 7-year-old son, Aaron, were among them. Jordan, an Army veteran who, at age 25, has not had a stable residence for herself and her son since returning from Afghanistan in 2010, was humbled by the prospect of a home of her own.
"There are no words. It is amazing how all of these people have come together …," she said.
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That night, as promised, 50 veterans now had a place to call home.