The number of homeless veterans in Collier County is much higher than previous estimates after its first homeless veteran count.
Collier County Commissioner Andy Solis joined volunteers canvassing the county for homeless veterans. It is an effort spearheaded by Wounded Warriors of Collier County after previous counts fell short.
“We owe our veterans better than we’re giving them,” Solis said. “Obviously, in the past, with only finding five, the methods that were used in assessing how many there were, were probably not the best ones. Obviously, the way it’s being done now is more effective because we’re getting a better count.”
With this focused count revealing a greater need, Solis said the county could start taking action.
“Getting them shelter is something that the county can work on with county resources,” Solis said, “and that would be a beginning.”
However, shelters are only a part of the solution. Within the last year, Solis initiated a comprehensive countywide mental health plan, which is currently in the works. He will factor this targeted veteran count into that plan.
Naples City Council Member Michelle McLeod, who is also a volunteer for the count, sits on that mental health committee.
“We have to do something about it,” McLeod said.
Gold Star Mom Kim Hayes agrees with the Naples council member that something has to be done. Her volunteer team found several homeless veterans at an east Naples bus station.
“I’m just a lady with a clipboard until I pull out my necklace and I shared with him that my son was living kind of couch surfing, having challenges here,” said Hayes about her son, a member on the 82nd Airborne, who saw combat in Afghanistan.
Hayes told the veteran that next week will be the third anniversary of her son’s death of an accidental drug overdose.
“As soon as I said that the walls started coming down,” Hayes said, “That…made my day.”
That veteran, who said he had been in special operations as an Army Ranger, completed the survey. Many others did, which reveals a need Solis said can not be ignored.
Commissioner Solis said he expects the county to finalize and adopt the mental health plan by the end of the year. Meantime, the veterans they have located so far will be connected to resources to meet their immediate needs.
“This is a really important component of the overall mental health strategic plan we’re working on in the county,” Solis said. “It’s a significant issue. Like I said, we owe our veterans at least a home.”
JFCS of the Suncoast/ Veteran Services
941-366-2224, ext 628
Veteran Services of Collier County
Naples Vet Center
Veterans Crisis Hotline
Text 838255 to connect with a VA responder
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
David Lawrence Center
St. Matthew’s House
Salvation Army – Family Services Center