Low-income veterans are facing increased hardships, threatening South Florida with housing challenges that could impact the local landscape for years.
Pembroke Pines, Florida, October 20, 2020 — Purpose Built Families Foundation today announced preliminary data for the agency’s Operation Sacred Trust Veteran homelessness prevention and rapid rehousing program for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2020. Results demonstrate veterans in the greater Miami-Fort Lauderdale metropolitan area are facing increased hardships, resulting in elevated demands for more low-income housing, jobs, benefits, and financial resources. Activists say addressing these needs is necessary to protect veteran lives and prevent consequences that will ultimately cost more and take years to repair.
From October 2019 through September 2020, Operation Sacred Trust (“OST”) served 1,800 very low-income veterans and family members in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, Founder & CEO Seth Eisenberg reported. That’s nearly double the number of veteran households receiving assistance from the agency last year.
The nationally-accredited, nonprofit based in Pembroke Pines reported distributing $3.7 million in temporary financial assistance for veteran families in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metropolitan area, 64 percent of which went to rental assistance and security deposits, according to consolidated data for Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
“We’re fighting day and night to keep veteran homelessness from leading to hundreds of our former servicemen and women from living on the streets in Broward and Miami-Dade counties,” Eisenberg said. “Since launching services in 2011, our community succeeded far beyond many other large cities. Those successes are threatened if we don’t rapidly address the increased hardships facing local veterans.”
More than 75 percent of Homeless Veterans are Disabled and have Less than $20k in Annual Income
More than three quarters of veterans who were literally homeless when they reached Operation Sacred Trust this year were disabled and had total household income below 30 percent of the Area Median Income. In Miami-Dade County, that means total household income below $19,200 annually. Thirty percent of those veterans were chronically homeless.
“For more than two-thirds of veterans served by Operation Sacred Trust this year, the combination of COVID, job losses, increased daily living expenses, and lack of low-income, affordable housing pushed them into their first tragic experience of homelessness,” said Eisenberg.
Exponentially Higher Cost of Inaction or Delayed Response
“There’s an urgency to preventing more veterans from becoming homeless in our community and interrupting homelessness for those who already are. That’s a sacred trust we have with those who served, and the cost of not acting effectively will be exponentially greater,” Eisenberg said.
Homeless veterans are more likely to be high utilizers of costly emergency services, face incarceration, addictions, and grapple with other challenges that are far more expensive to the public than providing housing, studies have shows. Veterans experiencing homelessness are also at higher risks for suicide.
Ninety Percent of Prevention Clients Maintained Housing
Eisenberg reported that more than 90 percent of veterans enrolled in prevention services were able to stay in their homes this year, while more than two thirds of those reaching out literally homeless were able to be placed in permanent housing. Keeping local veterans housed was largely due to support from Carrfour Supportive Housing, the state’s largest nonprofit housing developer, he said. Hundreds of extremely low-income veterans served by Operation Sacred Trust today live in Carrfour communities throughout Miami-Dade County.
Juan Flores, the local SSVF’s program’s Director of Engagement, said that despite help from Carrfour and others, there’s an extreme shortage of low-income, affordable housing for local veterans. Nearly 200 veterans remain housed by Operation Sacred Trust in local hotels while a team of care managers help them navigate challenges to receiving increased benefits, job training, employment, and permanent, affordable housing, Flores said. Vouchers issued by local housing authorities often in coordination with the Miami VA are the most important resource to keeping extremely low-income, disabled veterans from living on the streets, he said.
Ten-Fold Increase in Emergency Hotel Rooms
As a result of the novel coronavirus, Purpose Built Families Foundation spent $737,373 to provide emergency housing assistance this year, a more than 10-fold increase over prior years, Torner said.
“COVID left us with no choice,” Flores said of the agency’s decision to provide hundreds of emergency hotel rooms to keep veterans off the streets after coronavirus became widespread in the community.
The agency was fortunate to be able to access increased temporary federal assistance for local veterans through CARES funding expedited by VA as shelters and other emergency housing options either shutdown or posed health risks to veterans already facing complex health challenges, Torner added.
Nearly ninety percent of those served this year were single person households, Eisenberg reported. The majority were older than 55, he said.
Peak Numbers Expected to Increase as Evictions Resume
“The number of veterans in urgent need of services peaked to a nine-year high in July,” Eisenberg said. “We expect the number of veterans needing emergency help to increase again as local, state and federal eviction moratoriums are lifted.”
“We’re already seeing evictions resume,” added Flores. “Without significant additional funding or contributions to keep hundreds of veterans in emergency hotels, many of these heroes may tragically have no safety net.”
“The combined impact of COVID closures, high unemployment, higher daily living costs, and lack of affordable, low-income housing could lead hundreds more veterans to become chronically homeless in Broward and Miami-Dade counties,” Flores said.
Before Covid Hit, South Florida Was On Track to End Veteran Homelessness
Funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Supportive Services for Veteran Families (“SSVF”) program, Operation Sacred Trust is one of 300 public-private partnerships the VA has created since 2011 to end veteran homelessness in communities across the country. Before the pandemic, the program was credited with reducing local veteran homelessness by more than 50 percent and ending chronic veteran homelessness in Miami-Dade County.
Care Director Camille Eisenmann said it will take increased resources and the highest level of coordination between VA, SSVF providers such as Operation Sacred Trust, United Way’s Mission United partnerships, Miami’s Advocate Program, and local Continuums of Care for the community to have any hope of maintaining those hard fought gains.
“No one can solve this level of challenge alone,” Eisenmann said. “Our most vulnerable veteran families are counting on VA, our community, and everyone who cares about those who have served to do more than we’ve ever been asked to do,” Eisenmann said.
“The pandemic has forced us to show who we are as a community beyond anytime in recent memory,” Eisenberg said. “How we collectively care for those who have borne the battle and their loved ones will impact our community for years to come.”
To be eligible for SSVF services from Operation Sacred Trust, a Veteran must be very low-income, have served active duty, received a discharge other than dishonorable, and be homeless or facing imminent homelessness. For more information or to help, visit ostfl.com or call (855) SSVF-411 (855-778-3411).