U.S. Army Veteran - Jeff
Advocating For His Brothers in Arms
Jeff is the resident manager of a non-profit organization in Tampa that provides permanent housing for homeless veterans. The program consists of a large home that he personally helped renovate to accommodate his military "brothers." Jeff considers it his privilege and duty to help those who have served our country find more than life on the streets. A few years ago, he was among the many veterans in Hillsborough County battling homelessness, mental illness and addictions.
Life Before Homelessness
Jeff ran away from home at age 14 to escape a severely abusive childhood. He hitchhiked from New Jersey to New York City, where he met a family who took him in - giving him a job at their pizzeria and allowing him to sleep above the restaurant while he finished high school. After graduation, he caught a bus to Ft. Myers, Fla. to visit his uncle. Seeking an opportunity to better himself, Jeff enlisted in the Army later that year.
After four years of service, Jeff returned to Ft. Myers. About five years later, while working in a restaurant, Jeff was recalled to active duty in support of Operation Desert Storm and served with an Army Ranger battalion in the first Gulf War. Upon returning to civilian life for the second time, he returned to restaurant work, but found it increasingly difficult to function in society. Deciding it was time to begin a new chapter, he moved north to Tampa.
Homeless in Tampa
Soon after arriving in Tampa, Jeff became homeless. Missing the structure of military life, he began self-medicating with alcohol and drugs to escape the painful memories of his past. For the next four years, Jeff lived in his van at isolated campsites and sustained his addictions with money he made as a day laborer. He used his Army training for survival, returning to the city to clean his clothes and shower at homeless shelters.
Jeff was incarcerated for six months after his alcohol and drug addictions led to crime. However, seeing tremendous potential in Jeff, the assistant public defender assigned to his case recognized that his criminal behavior was the result of desperation and not a sign of poor moral character. She helped Jeff get treatment at the VA hospital where he was diagnosed and treated for mental illness. He also entered a court-ordered residential substance abuse program. With his mental illness under control, Jeff confronted his past and soon after broke his addictions.
After successfully completing the rehabilitation program, Jeff joined the program staff. In his efforts to assist others in their recoveries, Jeff saw a tremendous gap in the resources available to veterans. He teamed with the same assistant public defender who had advocated for him, and together they created a new program tailored to the needs of homeless veterans. She generously provided funding and purchased an abandoned home that was renovated and expanded to comfortably house future residents.
It's been more than a year since Jeff helped launch the program, and the home is bustling with veterans who would otherwise be living on the streets. The program offers no formal rehabilitation services, but rather a safe haven where residents can experience a sense of community and dignity. Jeff receives referrals from other veterans programs, and he carefully screens potential residents to make sure they can live independently following treatment for mental illness and addictions. Some of the men are employed, while others receive disability.
Jeff also owns a pressure washing company, which supplements the stipend he receives for managing the program. Aside from once saving someone's life in the military, the program's success is his proudest accomplishment. Jeff is relentless in his pursuit to advocate for homeless people, especially veterans, whom he believes are often treated unfairly in society. The memory of his own experience with homelessness never distant, he is eager to offer others the opportunity for a better life.