$5.5M awarded to region to curb homelessness among veterans


Published: Wednesday, July 24, 2013 at 5:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 24, 2013 at 5:02 p.m.

The North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System has received a $5.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to help prevent homelessness among veterans and provide transitional housing to those who are homeless.

The grant is part of the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program, and the money will be dispersed among several organizations in counties throughout North Central Florida that help veterans.

Vianne Marchese, chair of community care services at the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System, said the grant is a "a phenomenal resource to fill in the gap" for the small things. "Boots for work, the utility deposit. Some of those things are where SSVF can be helpful."

Marchese said Gainesville has a high homeless veterans population because many vets who come here for treatment at the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center end up staying and falling into homelessness because housing is more expensive and jobs harder to come by in Gainesville compared with where they're from.

Maggie Labarta, president and CEO of Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, one of the organizations that received a little more than $1 million of the grant money, said 39 percent of Gainesville's 1,750 homeless — in shelters and on the street — are veterans; they also make up 17 percent of the homeless population living on the street.

This is the first year Meridian applied for and received grant money, and Labarta anticipates that with it, her organization will help nearly 325 veterans and their families.

"This is a bridge," Labarta said. "A little gap that we can help fill so people don't fall through the cracks.

"Either you avoid homelessness entirely or return the person to transitional housing without an extended period of homelessness," Labarta continued.

Marchese anticipates that nearly 3,000 vets and their families will be helped in all counties in North Central Florida where the grant money has been awarded.

She added that their goals are in line with the federal government's goal to end veteran homelessness by 2015.

Kristine Crane is a Gainesville Sun staff writer.

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