Military veterans have been hard hit by coronavirus. Those serving on the frontlines are urging homeowners and banks to open up vacant properties for veterans who can pay reasonable rent, calling affordable housing a matter of life or death for many.
MIAMI, FLORIDA (July 28, 2020) — Military veterans are taking a hard hit from COVID-19 in South Florida. Miami-Dade and Broward counties have become an epicenter of the coronavirus with more than 156,740 local residents testing positive, 8,262 hospitalizations, and more than 2,000 deaths reported by the Florida Department of Health.
The impact goes beyond the direct health consequences.
As stores, restaurants, businesses, and construction sites shut down, many very low-income veterans lost jobs and income. Before coronavirus, the area was already one of the nation’s most expensive rental markets.
Help When Veterans Need It Most
The nationally accredited nonprofit based in Pembroke Pines, Florida receives funding from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program. It is one of 300 SSVF programs nationwide.
VA funding has enabled the agency to distribute $1,447,656 this year for emergency housing, rent, security deposits, utility bills, food, supplies, moving costs, and other urgent necessities to keep the area’s most vulnerable veterans off the streets.
Engagement Director Jacob Torner, 23, said Operation Sacred Trust has placed 173 veterans in local hotels, nearly ten times more than prior years. The increased pace is continuing, he said.
Torner joined OST in 2018 and today directs the program’s extensive outreach and engagement efforts across South Florida. Torner said daily coordination with the Miami VA Medical Center is critical to making sure at-risk veterans can rapidly access help when they need it most.
An Army Cadet on the Frontline Battling Veteran Homelessness
Farrah Farivar, 34, is an Army cadet and one of Torner’s veteran engagement specialists.
Farivar will be a 2nd Lieutenant when she graduates from FIU. Before moving to Miami, she completed basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma where she was recognized as the program’s female honor graduate.
Despite recent surgery to repair hamstring tears, Farivar joined Operation Sacred Trust in May to serve on the frontline of the fight against veteran homelessness in Miami.
While the agency implemented a strict safety program in March that has most of the 39-member team working with veterans remotely, Farivar insisted on serving in the field where she regularly comes in contact with veterans overcoming COVID-19.
“I understand what it feels like to be a veteran and to sacrifice for our country,” Farivar said.
Urgent Need for Affordable Housing
“It’s inconceivable that a home or apartment is vacant while a veteran who offered his or her life to protect our freedom and could pay reasonable rent is not able to live there. It’s truly a matter of life or death for many.”~ Seth Eisenberg
Purpose Built Families CEO Seth Eisenberg has directed OST since its inception in 2011. He said the agency hired 12 new care managers this year to meet the increased needs of local veterans.
Veterans facing homelessness are at increased risk for suicide, Eisenberg said.
“Every veteran we serve deserves a compassionate, dedicated, highly skilled care manager to help them through this crisis,” he said.
Eisenberg said affordable housing is the agency’s biggest challenge.
“There are thousands of people and banks holding vacant apartments and homes in our community and across the country,” Eisenberg said.
“We urgently need that housing to be accessible to these veterans who have given so much,” he said.
“It’s inconceivable that a home or apartment is vacant while a veteran who offered his or her life to protect our freedom and could pay reasonable rent is not able to live there. It’s truly a matter of life or death for many,” said Eisenberg.