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Initiative To End Veteran Homelessness Comes To Pensacola


One year ago, in June of 2014, First Lady Michelle Obama announced the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness in 2015. The Housing and Urban Development (HUD) initiative was introduced in Okaloosa County this spring. It’ll be coming to the Pensacola area this Friday.

Spearheading the effort in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties is Timothy Jones, a Navy veteran, who had his own experience with homelessness.

In January of this year, Jones attended the Student Veterans of America national conference in San Antonio, Texas. It was at a luncheon with Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald that he pledged to do his part to meet the goal of the Mayors Challenge.

“When you are in the room with 24 outstanding student veterans and the VA Secretary, you’re on the spot,” Jones said. “And, being that that was my narrative and story, I couldn’t think of anything better to say to the secretary than ‘I commit to helping the VA and the White House end veteran homelessness.’”

Locally, there is some work to be done, with Jones noting that the 2015 Council on Homelessness report shows approximately 5,100 homeless veterans in the state of Florida.

This year’s Point-In-Time survey conducted in January showed that there were 155 homeless veterans in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. That’s 24% of the 643 homeless people in the two-county area.

When the Mayors Challenge was launched in June of 2014, as a follow up to the White House and VA initiative to end Veteran homeless unveiled in 2010, the stated goal was zero  the end of this year.

The initiative is part of Opening Doors, the nation’s first ever federal strategic plan to prevent and end veteran homelessness. Jones says it’s a ‘housing first’ model that brings together community resources and expertise to remove barriers and help Veterans obtain permanent housing as quickly as possible.

“It’s a team effort and creating public/private partnerships is one aspect of achieving ending veteran homelessness,” said Jones. “Other cities around the state have done just that. They’ve coordinated all their resources together.”

The formula is working in several cities around the country. New Orleans became the first major city to end chronic veteran homelessness. Also, success has been reported in cities such as Seattle, Washington and Houston, Texas.

Credit HUD
First lady Michelle Obama joins HUD in announcing the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness by 2015.

The Mayors Challenge initiative will be introduced to Pensacola officials on Friday, Aug. 7, at 12 p.m. at the historic Rex Theatre in downtown Pensacola.  It will feature a screening of the documentary “Among the Discarded,” which chronicles the 30 days film-maker Trent Dion Soto spent living among the homeless on Skid Row in Los Angeles.

The film was first shown locally during a Mayor’s Challenge event in Fort Walton Beach in May.

“After the screening, through social media, Trent and I collaborated and he has just been all-in about utilizing his film and his experience in bringing it here to the Pensacola community so that we can begin the conversation,” Jones said.

For the Pensacola event, Jones says he has reached out to Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward’s office, as well as Escambia County Commissioner Doug Underhill, the mayor of the town of Century, and representatives from the City of Gulf Breeze have been invited. Local chambers of commerce have been invited.

Additionally, representatives of the Escarosa Coalition on the Homeless (ECOH) will be in attendance. The organization is at the forefront of current efforts to address the issue. Jones is confident that signing on to the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness by the end of 2015 can move those existing efforts forward.

“This Mayors Challenge, this initiative helps pull things together,” said Jones. “It’s a statement. This is a way for the City of Pensacola, the community of Pensacola, to stand up and join 28 other cities in Florida to say we will not tolerate another homeless veteran.”

The Mayors Challenge will be rolled out in Pensacola will be held this Friday, Aug. 7, from noon to 2 at the recently restored Rex Theatre, 19 N Palafox St.

To continue the conversation and raise awareness among other cities, Timothy Jones and “Among the Discarded” film-maker Trent Soto are planning a 200-mile walk to from Pensacola to Tallahassee. That will commence next Friday, Aug. 14.