Evidence Of Housing Discrimination Against Veterans

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Quil Lawrence, NPR Veterans Correspondent. Photo by David Gilkey/NPR

The following audio is a report by Quil Lawrence from National Public Radio.

It had long been suspected.

There was even anecdotal evidence.

But it wasn’t until the Washington state attorney general set up a “sting” that officials had proof that landlords were discriminating against veterans using federal housing vouchers.

The HUD vouchers were part of the Department of Veterans Affairs effort to end homelessness among veterans.

But because of the high cost of housing and the unwillingness of landlords to accept vouchers, Lawrence reports that homelessness increased last year.

You can listen to his NPR report here.

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Two Men Arrested For Stealing From Homeless Veterans

Two Miami men are charged with stealing items meant for homeless veterans that were worth more than $300,000.

The volunteer, Miami director of the non-profit, Florida Veterans Foundation, Antonio Colmenares, 57, was arrested by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents on first degree grand theft. Also arrested was Colmenares’ friend, Antonio Sabatier, 60, who did not hold an official position with the organization.

The charges stem from a complaint filed by the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs in March 2015 which was investigated by the FDLE. The two men allegedly had sold 27,000 blankets and 9,700 ready-to-eat meals that were donated to the Florida Veterans Foundation for use by homeless vets.

Money from the sale, according to the FDLE, was deposited into the bank account of a company owned by Sabatier, Nike Management.

The investigation also found that other donated items meant for homeless veterans had been sold for profit. The Florida Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General’s Office assisted in the investigation.

Colmenares and Sabatier are out on a $20,000 bond each after being booked into the Miami-Dade Jail.

Life Is Different For Homeless Veterans In Rural Communities


Homeless veterans and other homeless people live in this encampment near the Saratoga Springs, New York train station.
Sarah Harris / American Homefront

A report from Sarah Harris for the American Homefront Project looks at how homelessness differs for veterans living in rural communities: Rather than living in the streets, they may be couch-surfacing, sleeping in their cars, or camping in the woods.

Downtown Ballston Spa, New York, is full of charming old Victorian houses. But there’s one that’s different from its neighbors: the Vet House.

Fourteen formerly homeless veterans live there. It has a comfy frat house vibe: guitars are propped up in the corners, military flags and posters hang on the walls, the kitchen is overflowing with food.

“It’s cozy,” says Dave, who moved in a couple weeks ago. “All the guys get along. We all cook, clean, look out for each other.” Continue reading

Bay Pines Stand Down for Homeless Veterans

Bay Pines VA – C.W. Bill Young Medical Center. Photo Courtesy: VA.gov

Pinellas County veterans without a place to stay or those at risk of losing their home can tap into a wide range of services and resources Saturday, April 8, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System in the courtyard at the C.W. Bill Young Medical Center.

Along with housing and employment information, legal experts will be available for veterans with legal obligations or active misdemeanor cases. In 2016, more than 80 veterans were helped by the Stand Down Court.

In addition, veterans can get a medical screening, free meals, toiletries, haircuts and clothing items. Veterans are asked to bring a copy of their DD214 “Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty,” birth certificate, social security card and two documents that can verify their mailing address. Even without documentation, veterans will be assisted.

Call 727-398-6661 extension 17829 for more details or with questions about the Stand Down.

Hunger No Stranger To Veteran And Military Families

 Transitioning Army veteran Keith Norman, his wife Lina Norman and two of their four daughters, Shelia Encheva, 12, and Kiara Norman, 3. Bobbie O'Brien WUSF Public Media


Transitioning Army veteran Keith Norman, his wife Lina Norman and two of their four daughters, Shelia Encheva, 12, and Kiara Norman, 3.
Bobbie O’Brien WUSF Public Media

A 2014 survey found that almost 20 percent of the households using the Feeding Tampa Bay food bank were either veterans or active duty military.

The Norman family is a military family recently arrived from Colorado and transitioning into civilian life in Tampa. Never in a million years did the parents imagine that they would need help feeding their children.

“Everything changed from two, three weeks ago – we have a normal life. I worked. He worked. We’d go to the mall,” Lina Norman said. “Now, it’s nothing like this anymore. My little daughter asks ‘Can we go to the mall, can I have a hamburger? No. We always have to say no for everything now.”

Just a few weeks ago, Keith Norman was still in the Army. But after almost 10 years on active-duty and two deployments to Iraq, he wanted to follow his dream to become a law officer.

“We planned a year out. We made arrangements for housing because that would be the main thing we needed,” he said.

 Keith Norman served almost 10 years in the Army including two tours in Iraq before pursuing his dream to become a law officer. Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media


Keith Norman served almost 10 years in the Army including two tours in Iraq before pursuing his dream to become a law officer.
Credit Bobbie O’Brien / WUSF Public Media

They found a house to rent online. Lina said they got photos of the house and assurances from the landlord that it was in a safe neighborhood.

“We sent a security deposit, rent, everything. And we think okay, he has the job interview, we have the house, we’re good,” said Lina, who met and married Keith in Germany about five years ago.

But things weren’t good. They said the house they rented online ended up being in a bad neighborhood, and was infested with roaches and full of trash.

“My kids just get scared,” Lina Norman said. “They say ‘Where are we?’ They never lived in, they never been in situation like this.”

The Normans used up their savings staying in motel rooms while they tried to get a refund and find another house. When their money ran low, they pawned their television, borrowed money from family and then Keith and Lina started skipping meals.

The executive director of Feeding Tampa Bay said about 70 percent of the food they distribute is perishable, vegetables, dairy and frozen foods and supply about 65 percent of the food to soup kitchens and food pantries in a 10 county region.

The executive director of Feeding Tampa Bay said about 70 percent of the food they distribute is perishable, vegetables, dairy and frozen foods and supply about 65 percent of the food to soup kitchens and food pantries in a 10 county region.

“We just buy food for the kids first. They say ‘Mom why you don’t eat?’” Lina Norman said. “They just give us pieces and just say we going to be fine. And we try to don’t lose it completely in front of them.”

The family including the four girls, Shelia, 12; Esli, 9; Jeida, 7; and Kiara, 3 started sleeping in their two cars.

“Basically, we had to stretch our money out,” Keith Norman said. “When we were living in our vehicles, it was a big life changer.”

Both parents were embarrassed and distraught by how quickly their finances disintegrated. And they worried that asking for help might affect their job prospects.

But after sleeping in their cars for about a week, the family got a motel voucher and meals from Metropolitan Ministries and help finding a modest, single-family concrete block home in the Palm River neighborhood.

The three school-aged girls are enrolled in school and Keith said he’s taken his first test in the process of becoming a law officer.

“My daughter (Shelia), she has a birthday on (Nov.) 25th.  She’s going to be 13. We try to save our last money for cake,” Lina said.

But she said they were not planning on celebrating Thanksgiving because they didn’t have a reliable source of food that was until they visited Feeding Tampa Bay.

 Feeding Tampa Bay CEO Thomas Mantz and new employee Marlon Sykes, a 18-year Air Force veteran, stand before a large banner of people's photos, all helped by the food bank. Bobbie O'Brien WUSF Public Media


Feeding Tampa Bay CEO Thomas Mantz and new employee Marlon Sykes, a 18-year Air Force veteran, stand before a large banner of people’s photos, all helped by the food bank.
Bobbie O’Brien WUSF Public Media

“When I hear a story like that, I’m struck by the idea that they’re willing to do whatever is necessary in order to make the life for their children and their family what we would all want it to be. The lengths that they have to go to though are extraordinary,” said Thomas Mantz, Feeding Tampa Bay executive director.

The regional food bank provides an estimated 65 percent of the all food used in the soup kitchens and distributed through food pantries in a 10 county area.

Feeding Tampa Bay did a quadrennial survey that found 19 percent of the households they serve have a veteran or active duty military member.

New employee Marlon Sykes, a  18-year Air Force veteran, was only slightly surprised by that statistic.

“It mostly startles me because I don’t feel like any veteran should be in that category. But it doesn’t surprise me because I’ve seen it,” Sykes said.

What happened to the Norman family is becoming a lot more common.

“It’s particularly awful that veterans who we’ve asked to stand up and guard us and defend us should be hungry. I agree with that 1,000 percent,” Mantz said. “I also believe that no one else should be hungry.”

Feeding Tampa Bay provided the Norman family with a box of food and details on how to find their mobile food pantries.

The loading docks at Feeding Tampa Bay which provides about 65 percent of all the food at soup kitchens, church pantries and other charitable food programs in a 10-county region.

The loading docks at Feeding Tampa Bay which provides about 65 percent of all the food at soup kitchens, church pantries and other charitable food programs in a 10-county region.

Veterans Show Up for Pasco’s Stand Down

A Marine Corps helicopter door gunner in Vietnam, Maurice Buff, said the Veterans Treatment Court judge at the Stand Down was very fair dealing with his court costs and fines.

A Marine Corps helicopter door gunner in Vietnam, Maurice Buff, said the Veterans Treatment Court judge at the Stand Down was very fair dealing with his court costs and fines.

There’s a military tradition called a “Stand Down.” It’s when soldiers get a temporary break from combat for a shower, hot meal and peaceful night’s sleep.

Recently, Pasco County held a Stand Down for veterans in our community who are fighting a different kind of battle with homelessness, substance abuse or mental health issues.

This is the fourth year One Community Now (OCN), a group of local churches, sponsored the event according to Mary Miller, a member of the OCN Stand Down Core Team and St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Pasco County.

Army veteran Ira James Holt, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, gets a free haircut from a Great Clips volunteer.

Army veteran Ira James Holt, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, gets a free haircut from a Great Clips volunteer.

What started as a one-day event to connect homeless veterans has grown into three days with 500 volunteers from the community at Veterans Memorial Park in Hudson.

“This is the first year we have two dental buses,” Miller said, adding that the dentists and dental hygienists were kept busy with extractions and teeth cleaning.

Portable hot showers were set up next to the concession stand where veterans could get a free haircut.

A donations tent where homeless veterans could shop for free clothing, shoes and food was set up on one ballfield next to the tent housing the temporary Pasco Veterans Treatment Court.

Pasco Circuit Judge Shawn Crane brought the Veterans Treatment Court to the Stand Down to assist veterans with pending cases.

Pasco Circuit Judge Shawn Crane brought the Veterans Treatment Court to the Stand Down to assist veterans with pending cases.

That’s where Sixth Circuit Judge Shawn Crane presided over 52 cases handling issues like overdue fines and court fees and suspended drivers’ licenses.

“Things we take for granted and probably shouldn’t, they are very important for folks homeless or veterans,” Crane said. “We have to understand and appreciate the sacrifices our veterans have made for our country and appreciate some of the things they come back with.”

Crane helped Vietnam veteran Maurice Buff with his legal problems.

“The judge was very fair to me,” Buff said.  “I figured if I got my fines and court costs taken care of I’d be able to get my license back and be able to support myself.”

He landed in Pasco county jail after a dispute with his long-time girlfriend. When he got out, all his possessions were gone and he was homeless.

“I’m a proud person, but I actually went to St. Vincent DePaul Veterans Department and they’re helping me find a home,” Buff said.

He was one of 181 homeless or at risk veterans at Pasco’s 2015 Stand Down. That’s 60 more veterans than in 2013.

Foxtrot, Echo, Delta, Charlie were the tent names for the Stand Down sleeping quarters.

Foxtrot, Echo, Delta, Charlie were the tent names for the Stand Down sleeping quarters.

Florida Puts Out Call To All Women Veterans

Florida has 160,000 women veterans living in the state, yet some of those women do not consider themselves a veteran and many more have never applied for veterans’ benefits.

 Female Veterans in Iraq. A New Resource for Female Vet on VA health care and benefits: 1-855-VA-WOMEN. Credit Department of Veterans Affairs


Female Veterans in Iraq. A New Resource for Female Vet on VA health care and benefits: 1-855-VA-WOMEN.
Credit Department of Veterans Affairs

Matching women veterans with available benefits, resources and support is the goal of the 2nd Annual Women Veterans’ Conference July 30-31, 2015 at the University of South Florida

“Women veterans have a lot of gender specific issues,” said Alene Tarter, director of benefits and assistance for the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs (FDVA). “But often they don’t consider themselves veterans because male veterans or male family members have told them that they are not.”

She said many of the older women veterans are unaware that their veterans or entitled to veterans benefits.

“I’m a veteran. I only served a couple of years in the Air Force and I didn’t know I was a veteran for 25 years,” said Larri Gerson, supervisor of claims for FDVA.

From a previous Operation Stand Down.

From a previous Operation Stand Down.

Raising awareness and then helping women file for their veteran benefits is one reason why the state agency is planning the free, two-day conference in Tampa.

“I’ll be talking about the appeals process having women veterans understand what we can do to help them with their claim for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and MST, military sexual trauma,” Gerson said.

Sessions also will cover employment, vocational training, and an elder law expert along with an opportunity to sit down with benefits experts from the FDVA who will help women vets with their claims.

The 2nd Annual Florida Women’s Veterans Conference is free and open to women vets, their spouses and support. Online registration is available through the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

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