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Advocates Complete Walk To End Veteran Homelessness

Veteran advocate Timothy Jones and documentary filmmaker Trent Soto arrived in Tallahassee Monday, completing a 200 mile walk from Pensacola. Their goal was to raise awareness of efforts to end Veteran homelessness.

Jones and Soto got their walk started last Friday morning.

“It’s a beautiful day,” Jones said, as he and Soto were shooting the breeze with those who gathered at the Target Shopping Center on Nine Mile Road to see them off.

Jones is a member of Student Veterans of America and he's a Navy veteran, who was once homeless himself. He pointed to three main reasons for their journey.

“The first is that we have 5,100 homeless veterans in the state of Florida, so for each mile we walk, we honor 25 veterans,” he said. “The second component is for those agencies, those professionals that are every day in the trenches, working every day for the homeless community.”

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Credit Timothy Jones
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Finally, Jones said the walk was for those communities that are on the fence about whether to accept the Mayors Challenge and to help explain what it is and how it can really help veterans.

The Mayors Challenge is a Housing & Urban Development (HUD) initiative that was unveiled in 2014 by First Lady Michelle Obama. The stated goal is to end Veteran homelessness by the end of this year, 2015.

“We’re hoping that people will jump in there and realize that this is something that’s worthy of their attention and advocacy as well,” said Soto, who chronicled the 30 days he spent living on LA’s Skid Row in his documentary “https://vimeo.com/116023570" target="_blank">Among the Discarded.”

“I’m not a veteran, but we have men and women that go to war and then they are forgotten. They’re essentially discarded,” Soto said. “And, it’s a great American travesty to have that going on in the country. So, as a citizen, I personally want to thank the veterans that have fought for us and now it’s my turn, or it’s our turn to fight for them.”  As a result of his experience on Skid Row, Soto is planning to tell the veteran story in a new film project titled “America the Beautiful?”

Soto’s documentary on the homeless “Among the Discarded” was screened as the Mayors Challenge was unveiled in Fort Walton Beach in May and in Pensacola earlier this month (August) at an event coordinated by Jones.

Unfortunately, the City of Pensacola declined to accept the Mayors Challenge, with city leaders proclaiming that the goal of ‘functional-zero’ already has been achieved. Jones says the response was unexpected and disappointing, but that he is not deterred.

“It’s again, an awareness topic. I believe this walk will help shed a light,” Jones said. “Pensacola has done an amazing job with our organizations to reduce homelessness and we’re close. But, for Pensacola this is a way to say we are committed to this effort. We are joining the conversation and I certainly hope that we do accept the challenge, and that we lead the fight.”

And so, Jones and Soto began their 200-mile journey to spread the word about the fight against veteran homelessness, step by step along U.S. Highway 90.

“This experience was transformational,” said Jones, noting that they were warmly received along the way, especially in the Crestview and Mariana areas.

“Along the journey, we ran into homeless veterans who were appreciative of us taking this awareness to a larger scale. We ran into several active-duty service members who were giving us a thumbs-up.”

They pushed through walk at a brisk pace and arrived at the Capitol on Monday.

“The shoes that I wore to the Capitol were the same shoes that were gifted to me when I was homeless. So, that moment was a full circle moment,” Jones said.

Once in Tallahassee, the duo was not able to meet with state lawmakers, who were busy with a special session on redistricting. Also, Sen. Don Gaetz of Niceville was back in Northwest Florida readying to attend Tuesday’s first meeting of Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc.

But, Jones and Soto were able to visit Florida State University’s student veteran organization and participate in a roundtable discussion.

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Credit Timothy Jones
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Timothy Jones ends his trek at the Florida Capitol.

In reflecting on the purpose of the walk - to raise awareness and get people talking about the issue of veteran homelessness – Jones says he believes its “mission accomplished.”

Those conversations are taking place. Regular folks are having these conversations on how they can get involved on the homeless veteran front. So, I believe we have laid sufficient groundwork to continue.”

After he’s rested up, Jones hopes to keep the conversation going and generate more awareness of the Mayors Challenge, possibly with a one-mile walk in honor of homeless veterans in the Pensacola area.