Kevin Grinnell has a heart for veterans in need. Grinnell, field outreach coordinator with the Volunteers of America of Florida (VOA-F), a faith-based organization, visits local homeless outreaches, parks and other sites to seek out veterans who are at risk.
“I can help you,” he says as he extends a hand of friendship and offers to guide them toward a better situation and possibly a way off the street.
Grinnell was severely injured in a vehicle crash as a teen and was in a coma for a time.
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“I think what motivates me to help others is that in my past, I have been through being disabled and my belief in paying it forward by helping others,” Grinnell stated in an email.
Grinnell has been with VOA-F Ocala office for six years, and he is a regular presence at the Interfaith Emergency Services complex in northwest Ocala.
The Interfaith Emergency Services complex houses offices, some emergency housing and the Brother’s Keeper Soup Kitchen on the north side of Northwest Second Street, as well as the Interfaith food warehouse and an adjacent open-air fenced lot with tables, water and portable toilets on the south side.
The lot is open to the homeless for certain hours with a security officer on hand.
The process begins simply by going out into the community
Grinnell walked the complex on a recent day, seeking veterans and telling any he located that he could assist them with housing and other needs.
Jerry Bookless, 83, said his military career stretched from 1956 through the Vietnam War, when he spent 16 months as a POW. He is traveling and homeless.
Grinnell met with Bookless to discuss possible help.
Later, Grinnell reached out to a veteran identified as “Jackie” who had a stroke and has medical issues concerning his heart. Grinnell chatted with Jackie about possible benefits.
The local VOA-F office operates the Ritz Historic Inn Veterans Village on East Silver Springs Boulevard and adjacent Ritz Reserve 1 and Ritz Reserve 2 Apartment buildings. They offer additional help to veterans to prevent homelessness through the Department of Veterans Affairs’ “Supportive Services for Veterans and Veteran Families (SSVF)” program.
Dolly Locklear, program manager with the local VOA-F office, wrote in an email the
Ritz Historic Inn is a “50-bed Transitional Housing Program for homeless single veterans with the primary goal… to discharge into independent housing within 6 to 9 months (and) supportive services are included / required.”
Locklear stated the Ritz Reserve 1 (12 units) and Ritz Reserve 2 (27 units) “offers quality, affordable multifamily rental housing for financially qualified veterans.”
“Supportive services are made available to the residents as needed. HUD VASH (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing) and Section 8 are accepted, ”she wrote.
The SSFV program, funded by the VA, provides “low- and no-income” veterans and veterans families “housing stability” through help with rental and security deposits and “support services to homeless persons or those at risk of homelessness,” according to voaflorida.org.
The Ocala SSVF office assists approximately 50 veterans per year
Casey Boone, Air Force veteran, is the North Florida SSVF lead program supervisor and risk management specialist for VOA-F.
Boone said the Ocala SSVF office assists approximately 50 veterans a year.
According to VOA-F literature SSVF can also assist financially qualified veterans and their families who are literally homeless or in imminent risk of losing their housing with job searching and finding housing.
VOA-F statewide supports about 5,500 people annually and offers 75 programs while securing about $ 206 million in federal funds. VOAF employs about 200 people, according to literature from the VOA-F office in Saint Petersburg.
VOA-F provides help including affordable housing, behavior health care and substance abuse recovery programs for persons with disabilities, families, seniors and veterans, according to the VOA-F literature.
Help from First United Methodist Church of Ocala
Grinnell also sets up a table at the weekly Tuesday Morning Outreach held at First United Methodist Church of Ocala to offer help to veterans.
The FUMC Tuesday Morning Outreach provides food, tables and racks of clothing for people in need and includes booths to assist with obtaining birth certificates, arranging Florida IDs, getting a sleeping bag or tent and obtaining refurbished bicycles.
Fellowship, prayer and live spiritual music are part of the outreach as well.
A provider for the federally funded cellphone program known as “Lifeline” and a representative of CareerSource Citrus Levy Marion also had table space at the outreach.
FUMC Tuesday Morning Outreach Director Teri Keepers said current attendance is around 100 to 150 people each session.
At the recent FUMC outreach, Grinnell spoke with Craig Crump, an Army veteran who served from 1978 to 1992.
Crump, 65, who has a 70 percent service-connected disability, was faced with an increase in his apartment rent from $ 850 to $ 1,200 recently and could not afford the increase.
Crump entered a transitional housing program at the Ritz Veterans Village several months ago.
“I wanted to be self sufficient. Quality of life is important,” Crump said.
After Grinnell spoke with Crump, he was channeled to Gloria Cribben, case manager for housing with Interfaith Emergency Services.
Cribben is involved in helping clients find affordable housing and she deals with HUD-administered Emergency Solutions Grant Rapid Rehousing funds to assist homeless clients with move in costs.
“I did a formal intake and developed a budget for his housing,” Cribben stated in a follow up message.
“I will follow the client for one year and serve as a resource for keeping them housed with numerous services such as mental health counseling, medical and dental needs, career and job resources (and more),” she stated.
Cribben said the various agencies and outreaches work in concert. “We all work together and share resources with a common goal of helping as many people as possible,” Cribben stated.
‘I’m looking out my window at the sunshine’
Grinnell spoke with another one of his former Ritz Veterans Village clients, Willie Burch, at the FUMC Tuesday Morning Outreach.
Willie Burch, 69, served in the U.S. Air Force from 1973 to 1974 and worked with radar and as an aircraft refueler. He came to the area in June 2021, from Jacksonville with “nothing” and was a self-described “crack addict.”
Burch lived outside under an Ocala overpass for three years and at the Salvation Army on weather-extreme nights.
He got help through The Vines, a local mental health hospital with veterans’ programs, the FUMC Tuesday Morning Outreach, and staff at VOA-F.
Grinnell served as a resource for Burch when Burch was at the Ritz Veterans Village.
Willie Burch said the help “turned his life around” and now he’s drug free, married to Nichole, and lives in the new Oak Valley Apartments for Seniors in northeast Ocala.
“I’m looking out my window at the sunshine,” he said in a phone interview.