When it comes to Veterans and the homeless, Operation Lift Hope is embarking on a mission to leave no one behind. The Fort Lauderdale initiative spearheaded by developer Andy Mitchell, president and CEO of the Fairwinds Group, has brought together a coalition of business leaders, politicians, government and service providers, church and community members and local colleges – all united around the cause of ending homelessness for veterans in Fort Lauderdale by 2016. Currently, a staggering 18 percent of those who call the streets of Fort Lauderdale home are veterans. But after months of collaboration and planning to address this need, this new push to strengthen the continuum of care will be unveiled during an inaugural gala benefiting the homeless on Friday, September 25th at 6:30 p.m. at the Broward County Convention Center.
This event is no small affair; it has the full support of military leaders like Navy Admiral Vern Clark, who was in the Pentagon during the attack on 9/11, and Master Chief SEAL Sniper Rick Kaiser, who earned the silver medal for his service in the Mogadishu battle, depicted in the movie “Black Hawk Down.” Both of these decorated service men will share first hand stories at the gala, which will also feature patriotic music with military regalia, videos, a Navy Seal exhibit, memorabilia to take home and a comprehensive review of the New Continuum of Care for the homeless. It’s a night to share with veterans, friends and family and is sure to be a critical starting point for lasting change in the community.
“It’s like a brush fire that has gotten out of control,” said Mitchell. “As we’ve been putting this thing together, we’ve discovered that there is a deep undercurrent of people who really care about our city and its veterans.”
Just the beginning
The initiative is being co-chaired by County Commissioner Chip LaMarca and Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, but the gala is just the beginning. According to Mitchell, “We wanted something with legs to it,” so Operation Lift Hope is bringing together a group of people whose primary business is in Fort Lauderdale and who want to make sure this thing is fixed.” This group of philanthropic and business concerns is being called “The Joint Chiefs” because they are the first line of defense. Having made a significant multi-year financial contribution to the effort, they sit on a board that will oversee disbursement of funds held in a National Christian Foundation account and award grants to the designated agencies and teams that can fill the gaps in the continuum of care.
“There are a lot of people who are doing a great job [meeting needs of the homeless] but there are gaps, and that is what you see,” said Mitchell. Pulling together a synergistic team of current service providers and government officials, we asked them to help us dream of ways to fix these gaps and fund them,” said Mitchell. This simplified continuum of care is the result of that process. It will be clearly laid out in a display at the Convention Center and is summarized in the following objectives to:
Serve the homeless in their time of need through prevention, outreach and support services.
Stabilize housing and provide supportive services through emergency, transitional and permanent housing
Develop skills necessary for living and succeeding through formal and informal educational development and improvement
Expand income opportunities and facilitate career advancement through support and aftercare services to foster job readiness
We’re trying to make this process seamless so that when someone comes in for a shared meal, they are directed into a family center to get immediate help and services or reunification depending on their individual needs, Mitchell explained. And with the support of so many educational institutions, Michelle said, “If you are a veteran, there should be no reason you can’t be retrained.”
The initiative has grown from a simple conversation to a rewarding collaboration between government and social agencies, law enforcement and business professionals, church and community leaders. As each offers his or her specialized services and expertise in a newly united front, Mitchell said he is optimistic that they will achieve their mission.
“It’s one thing to read and talk about it,” said Mitchell. He’s urging people to “get involved, bring a loved one and join a veteran for the evening to be a part of this. Everyone can lift in some way; serve a shared meal, teach or educate, adopt a family through your church. We’re bringing the community together to get involved because if you don’t, you’re part of the problem.”
To learn more and to register, visit operationlifthope.org/galaregistration.