Activists are reporting dramatic increases in the number of military veterans reaching out for emergency housing assistance.
As advocates and policy makers meet at the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans conference in Washington, D. C. this week, local activists are reporting dramatic increases in the number of military veterans reaching out for help as greater numbers of American veterans are experiencing homelessness or facing the risk of homelessness than anytime in the past seven years. Attendees at this year’s conference remarked about the absence of senior VA Homeless Program Office officials, such as Supportive Services for Veteran Families Director Nikki Barfield.
Nearly 200 Percent Increase in Veterans’ Emergency Housing Requests
Since 2017, the number of requests from veteran families for emergency assistance has increased by 182 percent, according to an award-winning South Florida-based nonprofit, Purpose Built Families Foundation, which operates one of the nation’s largest Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) programs, known as Operation Sacred Trust.
Needs spiked as the pandemic hit South Florida in FY 2020, agency CEO Seth Eisenberg reported. Even as the COVID-19 emergency receded, the nonprofit still saw a 14 percent increase in requests between the first quarter of FY 2022 and the same period in 2023, Eisenberg said.
Specifically, the agency responded to 474 requests for assistance between October and December of FY 2023 versus just 158 requests in the same period of FY 2019 just before the pandemic hit communities across the country.
Fixed Incomes No Match for Skyrocketing Housing Costs
Rachel Marmor, the nationally-accredited nonprofit’s Chief Wellness Officer, said the continued spikes are a result of multiple factors, including wages and fixed incomes not keeping up with skyrocketing housing costs.
“Rapid inflation under the current Administration has hit Florida’ low-income housing market particularly hard,” Eisenberg said. “In South Florida, veterans on fixed incomes are being increasingly forced from their homes as monthly deposits don’t come close to keeping up with rising rents.
“The migration to Florida makes affordable housing increasingly scarce,” Eisenberg added.
South Florida Rents are 43% Higher Than National Average
According to ApartmentList.com, the median rent in Miami in 2023 is $1,634 for a 1-bedroom apartment and $2,166 for a 2-bedroom. Miami ranks #16 in the nation, among the country’s 100 largest cities, and the median rent in Miami is 43.3% higher than the national average.
Janely Ramos, a licensed realtor, directs the agency’s team of housing specialists. Ramos said the agency continues to pursue relationships with landlords and property managers who will prioritize veteran placements.
“Landlords know when they house one of our veterans, the veteran has our agency supporting their success today and into the future,” Ramos said. “That support gives landlords confidence knowing housing veterans is not only the right thing to do, but it makes good business sense too,” she added.
Eisenberg, who has led efforts to end Veteran homelessness and prevent suicide in the Greater Miami-Fort Lauderdale area since co-founding the agency’s Operation Sacred Trust program in 2011, said the severe shortage of affordable housing means the crisis will continue to worsen for the foreseeable future.
Even the relatively few developments under construction are being delayed by supply chain shortages the Administration has struggled to alleviate, Eisenberg said. He added that the community needs exponentially more affordable housing – particularly supportive housing – to keep the crisis from reaching the kinds of epidemic proportions that have changed the landscape of major cities in California, Washington, New York and elsewhere.
Eisenberg said the numbers should be a wake-up call to federal policy-makers who recently ended substantial programs designed to help low-income communities impacted by the pandemic environment. The absence of leading VA officials at the recent National Coalition for Homeless Veterans conference indicates the Department’s current leadership isn’t ready to engage in potentially difficult conversations.
“Keeping Florida a great place to live means we have to laser focus increased coordination, collaboration, and resources ensuring our most vulnerable residents – especially those who served in uniform – have a safe, stable place to call home,” he said.
“Everyone loses if more people are forced to the streets and shelters, as the overall cost to taxpayers and impact on communities becomes increasingly significant and unmanageable,” Eisenberg stressed.