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'New Beginnings of Tampa' serves homeless veterans who need a fresh start

Federal data shows Florida has the second most homeless veterans in the country, behind California.

TAMPA, Fla. — On this Veterans Day, we honor those who have served our nation in the armed forces. While this is a day of celebration, it also serves as a reminder that many veterans struggle in their day-to-day lives, particularly with homelessness.

Florida has the second most homeless veterans in the country, behind California, according to data from the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.

And a federal study shows veterans are 50% more likely to become homeless than other Americans.

Locally, "New Beginnings of Tampa" has been helping veterans for 20 years. The non-profit provides veterans with temporary housing and resources such as "life skills training, counseling, recovery, employment assistance, and permanent housing services" to help them to get back on their feet.  

"We help them get off the street and get whatever they need," Founder, Dr. Tom Atchison, said.

Army Veteran Keith Hewitt is staying at New Beginnings now and encourages others to seek out resources.

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"You have to reach out," Hewitt said. "In order to get help, you have to ask for help. New Beginnings has my back, God has the rest."

Atchinson said the demand in the area for the services is greater than what the non-profit can provide. 

"We get probably 50 calls a week where we have to turn vets down," Atchinson said. "We just don't have the room." 

What makes veterans more susceptible to homelessness?

Of course, there's no single reason. However, one told us candidly, it's because the average American hasn't watched a friend die in front of them.

"I have PTSD, I was in combat, I was a mortician for many years," Hewitt said. "I've struggled with depression and nightmares, things like that."

But "New Beginnings" doesn't ask why? Only, how can we help?

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"We want to show them love and care, help them get stabilized from physical and mental conditions, and help them get into their own place where they can be a productive citizen in society," Atchinson said. 

On average, staff says a veteran will stay there for three-four months until they've secured more permanent housing. 

"This place has given me an opportunity to regroup myself," Marine Corps Veteran Rick Chiarelli said. "I'll be out of here in a couple of weeks and I look forward to moving forward."

There are other resources for local veterans. 

The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay operates the statewide Florida Veterans Support Line, 1-844-MyFLVet and online https://www.myflvet.com. This is a 24/7 resource that veterans and their loved ones can call for emotional support and information pertaining to community resources.

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