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In Tampa, the drive to end homelessness among military veterans by the end of 2015 marches on

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

In 2010, the White House and Veterans Affairs Department issued an ambitious plan to end Veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. And while that leaves less than 50 days for that to be accomplished, officials in Hillsborough County today said the timeline remains realistic.

On Veterans Day at Port Tampa Bay in the Channel district, a host of local lawmakers and other dignitaries convened for the second annual Operation:Reveille, a collaboration between Hillsborough County, the city of Tampa and the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative that aims to connect 53 local homeless veterans to permanent or permanent supportive housing within the next few weeks.

There are three pillars for Operation:Reveille, said Antoinette Hayes Triplett, CEO with the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative. To rapidly rehouse those that are homeless; to develop partnerships across the country; and also develop a system of care so a veteran will never live on the streets on in a shelter again.

Hayes Triplett took over the position in Hillsborough County some 14 months ago, and her first project last year was to introduce Operation:Reveille, a project that she had developed when working with the homeless in St. Louis, to the community. Last year the program ended up providing housing for 53 homeless veterans.

This time around, the goal again remains to provide housing for 53 homeless vets, though Hayes Triplett said it won’t happen by the end of this evening, but will the course of the next few weeks. She said that Ashley Furniture will supply furniture for up to 200 apartments.

In addition to housing, veterans through the program can access such intensive case management, employment services, legal assistance, mental health services, benefits eligibility screenings, Veterans benefits, financial counseling, health care, and household supplies.

Although the emphasis was on military veterans, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said that it was important for the city to do as much as possible for the homeless.

“There are dozens of other folks out there who need our help,” he said, as anybody who visits parts of Tampa before the sun comes up is surely aware of everyday. “There are people who may not have served our country but they need our help. There are folks but for a hand up, would be productive citizens. This challenge isn’t just once a year, this challenge is everyday, and we got an obligation to reach down and help people up.”

U.S. General Lloyd Austin is the Commander of U.S. Central Command. He spent some of his time before the audience to discuss issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mild traumatic brain injuries, which plague veterans around the nation.

“As you know, these injuries are not well understood,” said General Austin. “And the stigma that’s often associated with these invisible wounds presents an additional burden for effective veterans and their families,” adding that many find it difficult to get adequate medical treatment or employment or other types of support. “I believe that we owe it to them to do all that we possibly can to help them overcome these and other challenges, and to become productive members of society.”

“We’re so unbelievably grateful. No words could ever begin to explain to you, what you’ve done for us,” said Tiffany Lara, a member of the U.S. Army who was able to obtain housing for her family through Operation:Reveille in 2014.

Lara says she works and attends school, but her husband — who also served — had a stroke and can no longer work.

“It’s not OK. We as veterans are helping fight and do all the things that you don’t want to do,” Lara added. “We’re doing this because we want to; because we love our country. Not everybody’s built for this, and if we can help you, the least you can do is please try to help someone else.”

The White house says that as of January 2014, overall veteran homelessness was down 33 percent since 2010. Figures for 2015 are scheduled to be released later this month.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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