VA wants homes for 100 homeless Orlando veterans in ‘Home for the Holidays’ campaign

VA had goal of housing 523 veterans in the Orlando-area in 2022

ORLANDO, Fla. – As of January 2022, The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated there were more than 33,000 veterans experiencing homelessness.

However, officials said that number has continued to grow throughout the year.

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The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is working to get results for our nation’s heroes by increasing funding for housing vouchers and provide financial incentives for landlords who help house veterans.

Right before Thanksgiving, the Orlando VA Healthcare System announced its “Home for the Holidays” campaign with the goal of finding housing for 100 homeless veterans across Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Volusia and Brevard counties.

“I wish more veterans would take advantage of this program because there’s way too many of us out there on the street, way too many,” said U.S. Army veteran Abner Velez.

Velez had been living in and out of homelessness for the last 10 years.

“Every once in a while, I would find someone who had what they called a trap, which is an abandoned house, and we would go in there and be able to sleep behind bushes,” Velez said.

Velez said there are several reasons why veterans end up homeless, from addiction to mental health. He said his battle with depression is what kept him out of the streets.

“A lot of us suffer from mental health issues,” Velez said. “It’s hard to incorporate back into the daily routine.”

But, back in May, through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development VA Housing Program, or HUD-VASH, Velez finally had a place to call home.

“Knowing that I have a place where I can stay where I am going to be warm, I’m not going to be out sleeping behind a bush, having the sprinklers turned on and getting wet you know and having to survive,” Velez said.

In order to help more veterans like Velez, the Orlando VA Healthcare System started the “Home for the Holidays” campaign.

“Our initiative is to get more landlords on board with us to get more veterans housed by the holidays,” said Orlando VA Outreach Social Worker and Housing Specialist Kristopher Vite.

Vite is a veteran himself and said he takes a lot of pride in housing homeless veterans.

“When they put that key in the door and the joy that comes on their face from tears to happiness to excitement for that next step in their journey to continue to live their life that they deserve,” Vite said.

The Orlando VA Healthcare System had its own goal of getting 523 veterans into housing by the end of 2022. As of October 31, they were at 444. They’re hoping the “Home for the Holidays” campaign pushes them to find housing for the last 15% it will take to meet their goal.

If you are a landlord and are interested in helping a veteran find their ‘Home for the Holidays’ you can email Kristopher Vite at Kristopher.Vite@va.gov. If you are a veteran in need of housing, head to the VA website.

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Emily joined WKMG-TV in November 2022.