Lunch for veterans without homes opens job opportunities too

12/21/12 Janelle Irwin
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Veterans who don’t have homes this holiday season got a warm meal this afternoon in Tampa. The Hillsborough County Veteran’s Affairs department doled out turkey dinners to about 40 vets, but also took the opportunity to help them get and keep jobs.

Veterans dined ten at a time, starting with this group. Kelly Beaver, a retired sailor in the Navy used to live on the streets. He’s still getting help from the county’s veteran's affairs department, but he said he’s on the road to recovery.

“I had fell off into the world of addiction from depression and pretty much lost everything on the surface.”

Beaver led the group of military veterans in a prayer giving thanks for the help they have received. Jim Silverwood, manager of the homeless recovery program in Hillsborough County said that includes help with finding jobs and places to live.

“We assist homeless individuals who are either disabled or part of a family – like a family unit with children – or employable homeless individuals.”

But the homeless recovery program refers military veterans to the county’s VA department. There, Frank Strum, director of the department said vets in need can get help kicking drug habits.

“They may have substance abuse issues, barriers such as transportation, housing – the case managers will assess them and rule them, try to remove those barriers.”

But Strum said the department’s main focus is finding jobs for their clients who are mostly Vietnam Vets. They partner with groups like the Salvation Army for employment opportunities, but in some cases clients can get help finding their niche in a trade.

“Our case managers or a job developer will sit down with the veteran and they’ll do vocational guidance, maybe retrain them into a new field if the field they are currently trained in may not be hiring. They’ll assess their skills and abilities and basically, we have funding available to provide formal training whether it’s classroom training or vocational-type training.”

Hillsborough’s homeless recovery program’s Silverwood said the veteran’s affairs department focuses solely on retired military.

“But their grant doesn’t allow them to pay for any type of shelter or any type of housing or anything like that for the veteran. So, what we do is, we will actually pay for the shelter costs for the veteran while they’re going through the program.”

He said some veteran’s further along in the program can get help transitioning into longer term housing.

“If they’re able to secure full time employment, we can help them with their first month’s rent and their utility deposits to help them get into permanent housing that they can afford based on what their income is from their employment.”

Both agencies are part of Hillsborough County government, but function separately. Because they each have their own pots of money to use, they work with multiple agencies to make sure clients have as much access to social safety nets as possible. As for bringing clients together for lunch, veteran’s affairs Strum said it serves two purposes.

“It’s just a way to bring them in to meet with our case managers, maybe their annual or their [monthly] meeting that they’re going to have anyway – and just a way to show appreciation and bring a good meal to our vets.”

The lunch was sponsored by a locally-owned IT company. Leisha Griffin, president of Vykin Corporation said all of the owners, including herself are veterans.

“There’s a place in our hearts for the veterans here and we just felt like it’s something we wanted to do and share in the holiday cheer with the homeless and help them get reestablished in the community.”

And that’s the spirit that Beaver said keeps him on the straight and narrow.

“And this place of refuge I found – the domiciliary through the VA and also [HVRP] and they help me obtain getting me my occupation back as a barber, helped me with my living situation so I could move my family from Orlando to hear and it’s been a real grateful experience to know that I can’t live my life the way I wanted to no more.”

Beaver referred to HVRP - that stands for Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program. He gave up his seat at the table with the first group of vets to get their meals in favor of waiting for more people to show up. He wants to be an inspiration for people just starting their journeys. Beaver said he wears a large charm of the video game character Luigi around his neck as a reminder of what he needs to do for himself and others like him.

“That’s to represent that today I can’t play games with me or nobody else.”

This is the third year veterans without homes have received lunch from these groups. This year they ate take out Turkey dinners with all the fixins. More information about Hillsborough County’s Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program is on the county’s website.

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