Just four years after officially starting, Brevard County-based National Veterans Homeless Support this year plans to expand its work into Volusia and Orange counties and beyond, thanks to a $1 million state grant.
The money, lawmakers and officials with the group say, is recognition of the organization's good work, and an effort to not only help NVHS do more in Brevard but replicate what's worked here elsewhere.
The mission: open transitional housing for at least 16 veterans - more than tripling what's currently available - and increase resources to help veterans living in the woods and on the streets of Central Florida.
"What we've been asked to do is take our model and expand it in Central Florida and increase beds in Brevard County," said George Taylor, president and founder of NVHS. "We're going to expand our search-and-rescue in south Brevard and Central Florida."
He estimates there are close to 600 homeless veterans in Brevard and about 4,500 in Central Florida.
The grant money was included in this year's state budget and will be administered through the State Department of Children and Families.
In addition to adding more transitional beds for homeless veterans, the money will allow for matching grants to veterans organizations for the annual Stand Down - a one-day event where needy veterans receive medical and dental help, as well as clothing assistance and other services. It also will help create a training program for NHVS to share its experience with "search and rescue," where volunteers search for homeless veterans who live in the woods, something the group does almost daily.
Sen. Mike Haridopolos said he supported the measure in the state Senate because he thought the group was doing good work to help veterans, but it needed a boost.
"I think it's a good program," Haridopolos said. "My wife and I have volunteered with their Stand Downs. We felt George Taylor and his group had done a great job with limited resources."
Haridopolos said that NVHS' methods will be useful to others working to help veterans.
Michael Cone, who recently moved into NVHS' first transitional house after years of homelessness, said he was glad to hear that other veterans will be helped out of homelessness thanks to the state assistance.
"It's a great opportunity," said Cone, 57, an Army veteran. "It's all about the veterans."
William "Billy" Macura, 54, who served in the Army and has been homeless for about a year and a half, said he hopes that many of the men and women who live in the woods could be helped with the new funding.
"I'm an outdoors person," said Macura as he showed off his camp in the woods off Babcock Street in Palm Bay. "But I would much rather have my cable TV, my History Channel and my apartment."
Taylor, a Vietnam veteran who once found himself homeless for about six months after returning from the war, has been aiding veterans for many years, with the help of his family. In 2008, he formed NVHS and started working out of donated office space with a budget of $1,365. Last year, with donations from corporations, United Way and individuals, the group had a budget of $230,000, which included some goods and services.
Last December, the group opened its first transitional home to accommodate six homeless veterans. Almost daily, Taylor and his group of volunteers trek into woods, feeding centers or soup kitchens and find homeless veterans needing help. They say the goal of NHVS is to eliminate homelessness among veterans in Brevard County and Central Florida.
"We plug them into the VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) or DAV (Disabled American Veterans), we feed them, give them tents until they can get employed and get into housing," Taylor said.
George Taylor Jr., who is NVHS' financial officer, said the major boost in financial resources, while quite a leap, did come with a concrete plan that the organization submitted to the state.
"It's definitely a large sum," he said. "They are going to be monitoring this."
He said that because the money is for specific programs, NVHS will still have to raise funds for its ongoing work.
United Way of Brevard also received $2 million to administer among 28 homeless coalitions across the state that help the general homeless population. Rob Rains, president of United Way Brevard, said that the money is for very specific use and that the organization was asked to distribute it because of its experience supporting the homeless.
While completely separate from the money NVHS received, which is specifically for homeless veterans, Taylor's group has asked United Way to provide some mentoring. "I think that this is an outstanding opportunity for them," Rains said. "They are a grassroots organization that has done a great job for two decades."
Written by R. Norman Moody - FLORIDA TODAY
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