“To America’s veterans, our country must speak with one voice: we honor your service, and we enter into a sacred trust with you from the moment you put on that uniform. That trust is simple: America will be there for you just as you have been there for America.”
President Barack Obama
Miami, FL (August 4, 2011) — Four of South Florida’s leading nonprofits with a long track record of service to Veterans were awarded $1 million by the Veterans Administration last week to implement “Operation Sacred Trust.” The initiative aims to provide a model of community collaboration, innovative services, and access to affordable housing to disrupt Veteran homelessness.
The group led by Carrfour Supportive Housing and PAIRS Foundation will serve 1,000 homeless and low-income Veterans in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, an area that has been hit hard by the economic downturn. Veterans have been particularly affected, with more than 1,000 literally homeless Veterans and over 20,000 low-income Veterans at risk in the area. Carrfour is Florida’s largest nonprofit provider of supportive housing.
“This program expands our capacity to act before a Veteran becomes homeless and to target the problem of family homelessness,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki in announcing nearly $60 million in homeless prevention grants that will serve approximately 22,000 homeless and at-risk Veteran families as part of the new Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program.
As part of the local initiative, at-risk Veteran families will be offered innovative PAIRS Resiliency training. The nine-hour training is designed to help families strengthen cohesion to overcome current and future challenges to housing stability.
Since 2006, PAIRS Foundation has provided similar training to thousands of singles, couples and high school teenagers in many of South Florida’s most distressed neighborhoods through a $5.5 million Healthy Marriage demonstration grant program funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.
A multi-year evaluation of the program found statistically significant improvements in relationship consensus, satisfaction, affectional expression, and cohesion for both “distressed” and non-distressed participants. Improvements either increased or were sustained six and 12 months later, reported Paul R. Peluso, Ph.D., a clinician, professor, and author of three books, 11 book chapters and over 25 articles related to individual, couples and family counseling.
In addition to Operation Sacred Trust, beginning next week in San Diego, PAIRS will train nearly 200 VA Chaplains and behavioral health specialists from key sites throughout the nation to help active-duty and Veteran couples learn skills to strengthen their marriages and families. In 2009, PAIRS collaboration with the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia was recognized by the VA as a National Best Practice in Marriage Enrichment.
Stephanie Berman-Eisenberg, Carrfour’s President/CEO, said Operation Sacred Trust will help place homeless Veterans in appropriate permanent housing and develop the resources to maintain housing stability. For low-income Veteran families facing threats to housing stability, she said the community-centered initiative will help them improve social role functioning, interpersonal relationships, decrease symptom distress, and access a range of supportive services to help them enter affordable housing or stay in their current homes.
Berman-Eisenberg’s husband, Seth Eisenberg, is CEO of PAIRS Foundation. He said the organization’s work with Veteran families nationwide has shown evidence-based marriage and relationship education that strengthens family resiliency is important to lasting housing stability.
“Family and marital breakdown is a leading cause of poverty and homelessness,” Seth Eisenberg said. “Helping low-income Veteran families improve communication, emotional understanding, and healthy conflict resolution skills gives them vital resources to interrupt events that lead to homelessness. Combining these services with access to affordable housing is the foundation to ending homelessness for America’s Veteran families,” he added.
Despite the boost in resources, the Eisenberg’s said ending Veteran homelessness in South Florida will not happen overnight.
“Our community’s veterans deserve the very best of all of us to help them have the opportunities for ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ they fought to defend for our families. That will take a sustained, collaborative, multi-year approach that focuses increasing resources towards our commitment to veterans,” Stephanie Berman-Eisenberg said.
“Veterans are counting on us to honor our sacred trust in actions,” Seth Eisenberg added. “Nearly half of the 700 veterans homeless on any given night in South Florida don’t have shelter. Reaching, engaging and serving these most vulnerable, unsheltered veterans is our most urgent priority. For each of them, housing is a life and death issue.”
“That should keep us all up at night,” he said.
The Eisenberg’s said the vision for Operation Sacred Trust evolved out of Stephanie Berman-Eisenberg’s experience developing supportive housing to disrupt homelessness for very low income Miami families and Seth Eisenberg’s work with military families impacted by long service deployments and veterans struggling to keep their lives together after significant combat exposure in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“When you’ve seen firsthand the price our military families have paid, helping them succeed when they come home becomes a sacred trust,” Stephanie Berman-Eisenberg said.
“They’ve earned much more than committees, studies, speeches and thank-you’s,” Seth Eisenberg said. “Operation Sacred Trust is about the very real work needed 24/7, 365 days a year for as long as it takes for those who have borne the battle and their loved ones. Whatever we have to figure out, whatever it takes, together, we have an obligation to succeed, and we will. There’s no other choice.”