Jacksonville Officials See Population Of Homeless Vets Changing

Sep 21, 2014

Volunteers assisted nearly 300 veterans at Jacksonville's Stand Down event Saturday.
Credit Peter Haden

Brian Richmond, 25, was discharged from the United States Air Force four years ago. He's been homeless for the last three and a half.

"My mom passed away. I ran out of money and couldn’t keep my house up, so had to sell it," he said. "So, I had to come out here - out to the streets."

He slept in a tent under a bridge in Jacksonville for two years. Then he got into the Sulzbacher Center - a transitional housing facility where he stays now.

Richmond was one of about 300 vets that came to the Veterans Stand Down Resource Fair Saturday at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds. They had access to medical and dental care, haircuts, clothes and help with legal issues. 

It’s the 15th year in a row Jacksonville has hosted the Stand Down event.

In that time, organizers have seen a transition, according to Harrison Conyers, manager of the city’s Military and Veterans Services Department.

"It’s a more diverse population than it used to be," said Conyers. "It used to be very focused on the Vietnam-era. Now we have a lot of Cold War and 9/11 veterans. And a lot of women vets, too."

Any trend in veteran homelessness will be seen in Florida. In 2013, officials counted more than 5,500 vets on the street in the Sunshine State-- 10 percent of all homeless vets in the nation. Only California had more.

Those numbers do not factor in “at-risk” individuals, or vets that are in shelters or staying with friends. Nearly 145,000 thousand vets use transitional housing programs each year.

"It’s a big issue," said Conyers. "There are several thousand homeless vets in Jacksonville. And not all or them are in the core city. There are a lot in the rural areas of our community. We have to try to get out and go to them."

Veterans can get assistance year-round at the Military and Veterans Services Department - located on the first floor of City Hall in downtown Jacksonville  from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. No appointment is necessary.

You can follow Peter Haden on Twitter @HadenMedia.