Overcoming homelessness, Miami Veteran is ready for fresh start at life, love

Ana Rubirosa with Veteran Robert Jacoby at his new Miami Beach apartment.

Robert Jacoby, 57, is a fighter. For much of his life, he was also known as an over-achiever.

“I used to be someone,” Jacoby remembers.

Jacoby’s father was a popular physician. He grew up enjoying “a country club life” – family, money, beautiful women, stability, “the whole nine yards.”

“When you’re exposed to money and you lose it all, it’s the worst,” he said.

His marriage ended. Dad died. 

It wasn’t long before depression, anxiety, and Parkinson’s Disease got the best of Robert Jacoby.

The former New Yorker who’d known the good life in Yonkers and Miami became homeless on the streets of his own community, sleeping on the cement in front of a local church, fighting off thieves after the few possessions he could carry, even his medicine … even his life.

“I’m damaged a little bit,” he confided.

Three years after becoming homeless, Robert Jacoby is ready to “start my life again.”

“I quit some bad habits,” he said. “What happens now is the opportunities open up, this is a big start,” he said standing in front of his new Miami Beach apartment, beginning to reflect the confidence he’d long ago lost.

Jacoby found himself facing a hopeless situation last year when the owner of the transitional housing community where he’d slept for almost three years announced plans to remodel and ordered him out.

“I had crazy roommates who would shoot up with drugs, it was a bad atmosphere,” Jacoby said of his experience in the only housing he could find to help him escape the elements and begin tackling demons sabotaging his life.

Despite the drugs, the fights, and constantly having to protect the little he had, it was better than sleeping outside with no protection from anything and little hope for anything better.

At a moment of hopelessness, Jacoby discovered an option he’d never considered.

“I was desperate. My neighbors and friends said, ‘Bobby, you were in the military, there’s help available.’”

“I was desperate,” Jacoby said. “My neighbors and friends said, ‘Bobby, you were in the military, there’s help available.’”

Thirty four years earlier, then 23-year-old Robert Jacoby had enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He’d served honorably. The idea that his military service decades earlier earned him benefits that could help him through homelessness wasn’t something he’d considered.

With nothing to lose, he called Operation Sacred Trust in nearby Pembroke Pines, Florida to tell his story.

As a result of the support he received from Operation Sacred Trust, this veteran is homeless no more. Together with his adopted cat, Alex, Jacoby lives close to the ocean in Miami.

“I want to live.”

“I feel like a person now,” he says. “I wake up in the morning and I can’t believe it.”

“I want to live,” he says with determination.

He talks about making new friends, even dating, now that he has a budget that allows him to keep a roof over his head and decorate a little.

 “You make a list and cross off one thing and then another and then another,” Jacoby said about making plans for the future.

Ana Rubirosa, helped Jacoby create a bridge to a future overflowing with potential.

Help OST care for those who served when we're needed most.

“She always answered my calls,” Jacoby says of Rubirosa, the Operation Sacred Trust (OST) Care Manager who worked with him daily on their shared mission.

Rubirosa is one of eight full-time Care Managers at the South Florida Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program. Each of the agency’s team members are carefully selected from hundreds of applicants for their compassion, competence serving veterans in the midst of trauma, and ability to thrive under pressure.

With funding from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, OST operates as a division of the nonprofit Purpose Built Families Foundation. Since 2011, the CARF-accredited program has ended and prevented homelessness for thousands of veterans and their family members in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. On any given day, the agency’s care team is providing urgent assistance to as many as 200 homeless and at-risk veterans. Sometimes, even more.

“Very few people are prepared for what it takes to serve veterans through some of the most difficult periods of their lives,” said Camille Eisenmann, the agency’s Program Director whose son recently completed service in the Marine Corps. Eisenmann is constantly on the lookout for dedicated, skilled professionals with a passion for service and special place in their hearts for those who have borne the battle.

Seth and Stephanie Eisenberg co-founded Operation Sacred Trust at a time when thousands of Floridians were returning home after completing military service that often included difficult deployments with many suffering visible and invisible wounds of war.

The Eisenbergs said their goal was to ensure every South Florida veteran in need was treated like someone’s mother, father, brother, or sister. Today, they are hoping to expand OST to other communities where veterans do not have access to the same level of service and resources.

“The factors that lead to veteran homelessness in America are personal and unique to each veteran,” said Stephanie Eisenberg, who is President/CEO of Carrfour Supportive Housing, Florida’s largest nonprofit developer of affordable housing. “OST’s approach is woven around the unique needs, circumstances, and aspirations of each veteran family we serve.”

Seth Eisenberg is President/CEO of Purpose Built Families Foundation. He said OST is built on the awareness that veterans facing homelessness are at the highest risk for suicide and must receive rapid, personal assistance that’s consistent through every point of contact. That level of personal care, he said, is available because Operation Sacred Trust is built on a technology platform that frees up team members to rapidly provide direct client care.

“While veterans know Sacred Trust for the care they receive, what makes that possible is a technology foundation built on the Salesforce.com platform,” he said.

“Technology allows the nonprofit to practically eliminate administrative burdens that would otherwise keep team members from providing direct services and consume valuable time — a precious resource when helping a veteran overcome crisis,” said Jaymee Kent, the agency’s Chief Technology Officer who manages a four-person team responsible for ensuring uninterrupted technology support.

“From organizational memory that dramatically boosts collaborative potential to automating processes that are not unique to each veteran, we’re able to achieve efficiencies that were once impossible to imagine,” she said.

While Robert Jacoby and thousands like him will never see that technology, they experience the results. Within weeks of reaching out for help, Jacoby had the resources needed as a bridge to a fresh start, a plan for a better future, and keys to his new apartment that’s not far from the ocean.

For starters, he wants to be closer to his 90-year-old mother. “That’s my heart,” he said.

He’d also like to return to playing tennis, swimming, and making new friends.

“Seeing Mr. Jacoby embrace his potential for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is what it’s all about,” said Jacob Torner, OST Engagement Director.

How does the team celebrate Mr. Jacoby’s success, Torner is asked.

“When serving veterans is your passion, the celebration is the act of service itself,” he said.

“The real celebration,” he added, “will come when there is housing available in our community — and every other community — so no veteran ever sleeps on the pavement, park bench, abandoned building, shelter, or anywhere else that deprives them of the freedoms they sacrificed to give the rest of us.”

“That’s our sacred trust,” Seth Eisenberg said. “As a team and community, it’s a responsibility we embrace with mind, heart, and spirit everyday.”