Community Organizations that Serve Veterans Exchange Ideas at Saint Leo Event
February 06, 2017
More than 5,000 veterans attend classes at Saint Leo, and nearly 4,500 active-duty military members are enrolled around the world. That commitment to our armed services extends to the greater community.
Saint Leo recently hosted a Veterans Community Information Meeting to bring together representatives of agencies that provide services for veterans and their families in Pasco County (home to University Campus and the Adult Education Center) and the surrounding counties. Coordination of services is key so that veterans’ needs do not fall through the cracks, those in attendance agreed.
Dr. William J. Lennox Jr., university president, will serve as co-chair of a community engagement board at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, said Adam Kijanski, field consultant for the Southeast District, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Members are looking at the needs of veterans not only in the Tampa and Pasco County area, but also in Polk and Hernando counties.
“Our goal is improving the veteran’s experience,” Kijanski said.
CareerSource of Pasco Hernando also focuses on the needs of veterans who are searching for jobs or transitioning from the military, said Jim Flaherty, veterans’ employment representative for the agency. CareerSource not only works with those seeking employment, but also with employers, helping them to hire those with military experience.
The agency, on average, probably sees 600 to 700 veterans a month, Flaherty said. Among those CareerSource works with are recently discharged veterans who are transitioning from military service, homeless veterans or those who are at risk of being homeless because of living significantly below poverty levels, and recently incarcerated veterans.
“We run workshops with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office at the jail in New Port Richey [FL],” Flaherty said.
The sheriff’s office also has a dedicated military wing at the Land O’ Lakes Detention Center, said Captain Tait Sanborn. “We provide counseling services for those who come into the system, and we try to get these men and women back on their feet,” Sanborn said of the veterans.
The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office also gives priority to hiring veterans, Sanborn said. Veterans share the same sense of sacrifice and service as law enforcement officers, he added. He asked that Saint Leo, as well as the agencies in attendance, point veterans toward employment at the sheriff’s office.
Saint Leo was one of the sponsors of the One Community Now Stand Down in the fall that helped more than 400 veterans and their spouses, said James R. Western Jr. This year’s event will focus on citations written for veterans in Pasco, Western said. Pasco County Circuit Judge Shawn Crane hopes to hold veterans court at the event. Stand Down will move to The Concourse, 12235 Alric Pottberg Road, in Shady Hills, in order to serve more people.
The university’s social work students and faculty members volunteer each year at Pasco County’s Stand Down.
Martin Mazurek, veterans’ services officer for Pasco County, discussed what his agency can provide for those who served or their widows or widowers. Benefit claims are some of the top issues the office helps with, as the claims process can be labor intensive, Mazurek said. “We want to hear your story; we want to know how we can help you,” he said.
The Circle of Veterans also provides services for veterans and their families as well as bridge housing for homeless veterans. The nonprofit Circle V Ranch in Dade City can house homeless veterans for up to 90 days, said Tice Ridley of The Circle of Veterans.
A change to a new database delayed the annual count of Pasco County’s homeless population from its traditional January date this year. The Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco County “point in time” count of the homeless will be conducted Wednesday, February 22. It will be a 24-hour count. Saint Leo students often help with the annual tally.
“We know we need to count our veterans accurately,” said Raine Johns, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless. The count helps provide needed resources for the county’s homeless veteran population.
The Pasco County Board of County Commissioners have approved the use of the former Boys & Girls Club in Port Richey as a shelter and center for services for the homeless of West Pasco. “Our goal is to open by next summer,” Johns said.
On the east side of Pasco County, Dr. Veronika Ospina-Kammer (known as Dr. VOK), associate professor of social work, is working on creating a resource center for the homeless and those in need. Dr. Ospina-Kammer also is the director of field placement for Saint Leo’s social work students and encouraged those at the Veterans Community Information Meeting to hire the students as interns for their organizations.
Another project to help with homelessness has been approved by the state. A new 30-unit building will be constructed in New Port Richey in West Pasco.
“We are going to end veterans’ homelessness in this [Pasco] county,” said Michael J. Raposa, CEO of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul South Pinellas, which also serves Pasco County.