At the third “Operation: Reveille” event held at Port Tampa Bay on Friday, officials with the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative (THHI) and a variety of other partners announced that they would connect 25 homeless veterans to housing and other services.
“I want to go ahead and let the veterans know, you can get out of homelessness, but you have to work hard. You have to be the one. The services are here. Grasp them,” said Navy veteran Joanne Jones, 54, the only homeless veteran officially included among the roster of speakers at the event.
This is the third year in a row THHI has held the event, which has been led by its CEO, Antoinette Hayes Triplett, who was hired by the agency in the summer of 2014.
Triplett came from St. Louis, where for the previous 13 years she was the head of homeless services there, and it’s where the idea of having an event that could provide permanent housing for homeless veterans was hatched. In 2014 and 2015, the event found housing for 53 veterans at both events.
In September, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald visited Tampa, where he learned about Operation Reveille, and was so inspired by the concept that he told Hayes Triplette he wanted to spread the concept around the country. She said that since her encounter with McDonald, she’s been contacted by over a dozen communities around the nation that will hold their own Operation Reveille events over the next 90 days.
The initiative melds with the Obama administration’s announced goal in 2010 to attempt to end all homelessness among veterans by 2015. That hasn’t come to fruition, but Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman said homelessness overall in the county was reduced by 30 percent over the past two years, although there are still an estimated 180 veterans without permanent housing in Tampa/Hillsborough County, according to 2016 homeless count held in February.
Tampa resident Eugene Means, 53, was part of the first class of 53 veterans who received housing through Operation Reveille back in 2014.
“I was homeless for four years, and they really did house me,” he says regarding his transition to a place to live in the University area. Means began his career in the Navy “sometime in the 1980s,” he says. He did work at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital for awhile, but says an issue with an illness precluded him from continuing to work there.
Unlike the two previous events, there appeared to be fewer public officials present. Ed Jennings, the Southeast regional administrator for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, injected some energy in his speech. “What you are doing here in Tampa is going to be replicated around the country,” he said. “You’ve done it three times in a row. Do it four, do it five, do it six,” he said, as applause drowned out the end of his sentence.