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Building a Stronger Community


BRADENTON -- Last Friday, the Manatee County Neighborhood Services Department, in concert with the Manatee County Substance Abuse Coalition, hosted a CADCA VetCorps presentation that addressed veterans' needs. Substance abuse, mental health, unemployment, education and homelessness were some of the subjects discussed at the Renaissance on 9th event facility in mid-town Bradenton.

The VetCorps function hosted speakers from across the spectrum, experienced in finding help with community services, affordable housing, health care and substance abuse.  

VetCorps is a national project supported by CADCA (Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America) and the National Guard. VetCorps' goal is to increase awareness and services by establishing partnerships with community services to create a support system.

The Manatee County Substance Abuse Coalition (MCSAC) took the lead at Friday's event, coordinating all parties to launch the much needed effort to find resolve for the very serious and growing problems surrounding, vets, homelessness, substance abuse and affordable housing.   

Long term economic woes have kept many community members --  locally and across the nation -- in poverty and on their knees, while community services are struggling to keep up with the growing number of poor people who are falling into dire straits.  


Sharon Kramer, Executive Director of MCSAC, says she was pleased with the way all parties got their messages out. Kramer gave credit and praise to her team that put the event together.

The MCSAC team Kramer spoke of was Patti Durham and Kelli Pond, both of whom are MCSAC VetCorps Prevention Coordinators. 

Jessica Spencer, Project Director at MCSAC, said, "I am thrilled with how it all pulled so many organizations and community members together to address the issues of homelessness, substance abuse and the problems that follow."

Housing and Urban Development (HUD), partnered with the VA (Veteran Administration) and produced a VA/HUD-Voucher, (rent assistance for veterans who have a job, but don't make enough to make ends meet) to be paid to landlords through local help organizations.

Veterans who qualify for assistance are asked to dedicate one third of their salary to the cost of rent, and the rest is paid for through the voucher program. This incentive often works to bring more confidence to the landlords who are sometimes reluctant to gamble on renting to someone who's carrying baggage.

To help bridge some of the many communication gaps that occur when vets are on the street and attempting to get a place to live, the event invited a diverse group with distinct talents to assist and weigh in on the issues.

The speaking guests were:

Dennis Turner -- A 30 year U.S. Navy Veteran, relocated to the SW coast of Florida in 2013. He joined the staff at Turning Point as the Supported Service for Veterans and Families Program Manager, and has helped to assist the housing of over 50 veterans in Manatee County. 

Lee Washington -- is a native of Port Charlotte and retired U.S. Marine. After being employed for a decade in the banking industry, Washington took the position as Supervisor of the Veterans Services Division for Manatee County.

Carrie Meo-Omens -- is Section Chief for the HUD-Vash program at the Bay Pines VA Healthcare Systems. Omens is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Florida and is a program administrator, educator and clinician.

Avery Burke -- has been a Homeless Outreach Specialist at Manatee Glens since 2002. Burke's vital role is outreach services to the homeless in Manatee County, and works to identify individuals with severe and persistent mental illnesses then engages them to treatment. 

Christopher Davis -- is currently Program Manager of Goodwill Manasota's American Veterans and their Families Initiative. Davis is a military vet and undergraduate at the University of South Florida, Sarasota Manatee Campus, where he studies Psychology.

Vince Bower -- a landlord who currently manages over 100 local rental properties. Bower became a minister in 2003, and participates in drug and addiction rehabilitation.

Left to Right: Lee Washington, Carrie Meo-Omens, Avery Burke, Christopher Davis and Vince Bower

Organizers specifically invited Landlords to the attend in order to help improve the communication and information gap that sometimes burdens renters and those who are looking to rent after living on the streets. 

Landlord Rich Haggar may have put it best when he conveyed to the panel his hesitation and insecurities about renting under questionable circumstances. Vince Bower responded with, "You have to have the heart for it, and be prepared for a little struggle." Bower went on to remind those in the room of obligations we all have for those who gave us their all.

Washington summed up the purpose of the event when he said, "If you take anything away from here, I hope it is assistance with your networking and case management."  

Manatee County Neighborhood Services Community Development Manager, Suzie Dobbs, said, "The purpose of this was to educate the landlords, help them help the vets."

Terri Wonder, who is running for Carol Whitmore's District 6 Manatee County Commission seat in November, conveyed to the panel her experience with "women veterans." Wonder said women veterans have a different set of issues and therefore require different solutions. 

Wonder added, "Some are raped by those they work with and face serious challenges when they return to the states."

Wonder offered her expertise to the panel, as did many of the other professionals in the room. 

After the presentations and some brief discussions among the audience, the food came out, and after the chewing, the hum of networking filled the room. 

MCSAC partners with other organizations throughout Manatee County to improve the quality of life for the less fortunate, especially those who have fallen into homelessness and/or substance abuse and are struggling to get back on their feet. Far too many vets have found themselves there. 

The next VetCorps meeting is April 15, 2014 at 10:00a.m. in the Manatee County Government Administration Building 3rd Floor Conference Room. The MCSAC team and the other great organizations who are supporting the goal of getting vets off the streets and into homes want everyone to join them there.

For more information contact, Patti Durham or Kelli Pond, (941) 748-4501 ext 3490.


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