Army Veteran, 74, Barely Misses the Count and Couldn't Be Happier

Purpose Built Families Foundation gets homeless senior key to his new home three hours after first contact

​​​​​​​Two nights in January each year, community activists team up with law enforcement and municipal officials nationwide to hit the streets to count the homeless. Last week, Purpose Built Families Foundation staff led the effort to locate and identify homeless veterans for the annual Broward County, Florida, Point-in-Time Count out of their Pembroke Pines-based headquarters.

Dr. Juan Flores, a Marine Corp veteran, is Intake Supervisor for Purpose Built’s Operation Sacred Trust Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. For the 2020 Broward County count, six headquarters were established and in full operation. As Captain for the Southwest Region, Flores guided volunteers on the painstaking search through alleyways, parks, beaches, abandoned buildings, bus and plane terminals, and dozens of places in between searching for fellow servicemen and women who have fallen on hard times. 

Robert Beckler, 74, barely missed getting counted by Flores’ team last week, and he couldn’t be happier.

Originally from upstate New York, Beckler joined the Army in 1976. He settled in the Fort Lauderdale area, made a quiet life for himself, and lived in the same rented apartment for more than 33 years. By all accounts, he was a good tenant and neighbor.

Beckler was shocked when his landlord recently announced plans to remodel and told him he had to get out. With no family or friends to take him in, his stable, peaceful life became a nightmare. In an instant, Beckler, with just a heavy jacket to protect him from the elements and a rolling suitcase for the possessions he could carry, was homeless.

At 10:15 last Tuesday morning, Beckler was searching for emergency shelter and a hot meal when he met Kevin Williams in an alleyway. Williams is a fellow Army veteran who served in uniform for more than 25 years. He gave up a comfortable retirement last year to join the Operation Sacred Trust team responsible for making sure veterans facing homelessness get immediate, compassionate assistance. Every day, his team is on the lookout for veterans like Beckler.

Less than three hours after they met, Beckler had the key to his new apartment. He moved in that day. He and Williams, two brothers in arms, couldn't be happier.

“Every minute of homelessness is urgent,” said Seth Eisenberg, Purpose Built Families Foundation's chief executive and co-founder of Operation Sacred Trust (OST).

Since founding Operation Sacred Trust in 2011 as a collaboration of like-minded nonprofits committed to eradicating veteran homelessness, the agency has served thousands of homeless veterans, their families, and thousands more facing the threat of homelessness.

“Kevin Williams may have set a record housing Mr. Beckler in less than three hours, but that level of care and commitment is what we expect seven days a week, 24 hours a day from our team. It's also what our community deserves,” Eisenberg said.

Elderly homeless veterans, he said, are at the highest risk for suicide.

“It’s not hard to understand how hopeless and desperate homelessness feels for someone who has no family, friends or social supports to turn to. Our team becomes that support and doesn't look away until we know every one of the veterans we serve is safe.”

The agency has relationships with landlords throughout Broward and Miami-Dade who share their commitment to veterans. “Landlords know they can count on us to be there for our veterans and to keep being there. We’re grateful our community has some landlords who treat veterans with the respect they’ve earned," Eisenberg said.

“We hope that example will inspire others,” he added. "Particularly for the elderly, housing can be a life or death issue."

Last January, Broward County located 216 homeless veterans during the 2019 Point-in-Time count, a significant increase over prior years at a time when veteran homelessness has been declining sharply in other Florida metropolitan communities, including neighboring Miami-Dade County.

Jacob Torner, Operation Sacred Trust's Engagement Director and a national trainer for the VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) initiative, said changing that trend requires a consistent sense of urgency from every agency responsible for neighbors who become homeless.

“Tackling homelessness takes the same kind of urgency you’d see in the nation's top emergency rooms,” Torner said. “The idea that someone who is homeless is simply told to start calling or emailing a list of potential resources or finding their way to a pick-up point often doesn’t work. As a community, those of us who signed up for this mission have to do more of what works for those we serve and stop doing what doesn’t work,” he said. "The lives of our servicemen and women are on the line."

Source: Purpose Built Families Foundation