Ambitious program helps Orlando's homeless

- Bert Kearny steps into his new home.

"I've got a nice couch. Nice tables, chairs, television."

His things—which were donated-- have been here for just a few days.  

The one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment is a modest place to live, but it is a palace compared to the last place.

"I'm not in the street!" Kearny says with a grin.

He was homeless for ten years.  He spent the past three years sleeping under the underpass at I-4 and Lee Road.

A sheriff’s deputy reached out to him over the summer as part of an ambitious program to help homeless veterans.

Bert drove an Army tank during the Viet Nam War.  

In July, the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness teamed up with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and launched an effort to house every one of the approximately 200 homeless veterans in Orange, Seminole and Osceola County by the end of the year.  

"We now have less than 80 chronically homeless veterans left in our region who are still homeless," said Commission on Homelessness CEO Andrae Bailey.

Over the past year leaders with local government and local businesses have committed millions of dollars to diminish the number of homeless in the Orlando area.  

The goal is to find homes not just for veterans, but for as many homeless people as possible.      

"We had the goal of trying to get hundreds of chronically homeless and veterans off our streets.  We had hoped maybe to get as many as 500 off our streets in total.  I think we're going to come really close to meeting that goal this year," Bailey said.

Efforts will continue for into 2016 and beyond, Bailey said.  

"The work, in my opinion ma'am, is ongoing," said David Williams, one of the first veterans to get a home.

He had been homeless for 17 years.

Now he lives in a one-bedroom apartment near Lake Eola and works with the commission reaching out to others.  

"It's very rewarding because this is not about me.  It's about reaching out to other people so they can have the same opportunities for permanent supportive housing," Williams said.  

The Commission uses what’s called “housing first” model.  The initial step is to find a permanent place to live for the chronically homeless.

“If you start by helping someone get stable housing—not a shelter, not a transitional program, but their own four walls—even if it’s small…they have the ability to start with small help rebuilding their life,” Bailey said.

The next step is getting the men or women who are no longer homeless support.  

“When someone gets a roof over their head, they get case management, they get support from those in the community and it’s that support that helps ensure that they not only get off the streets, but they stay off the streets for good,” Bailey said.  

For Kearney, the best part of being off the streets is no the TV or the bed, which were donated.

“I can sleep on anything. Cause I've been doing that,” he said.

The best part of his new home is the kitchen.

“I can cook.  I've got a stove.  I'm happy!” he declares.  

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