During a routine quality-of-care follow-up call, a VNA volunteer learned that a former patient was on the brink of homelessness. The patient, *Elizabeth, who had been living in a 55 + community in Vero Beach known for being affordable, suddenly went from paying $1,000 a month to $1,500 after her landlord sold her apartment to a new owner who implemented the hike in rent, sadly a common trend in the current real estate market. For 74-year-old Elizabeth, who is on a fixed income, every month became a battle to survive, and she finally gave up. After a few months of not paying rent, she was evicted.
Elizabeth found temporary shelter on a friend’s couch where she spent her waking hours trying to find permanent housing, but she kept encountering the same problem: as soon as a potential landlord discovered she was evicted from her previous home, she was automatically turned down. As her frustration grew, so did her despair, particularly when her friend could no longer house her. Desperate, Elizabeth found temporary shelter at The Source, a faith-based nonprofit in Vero Beach that provides 20 “sleep pods” on a retrofitted “Dignity Bus” to people in need.
Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s situation is far from unique, something a few other VNA volunteers discovered during their routine follow-up quality-of-care calls to former patients. And at least one of these patients was not as fortunate as Elizabeth; he ended up sleeping in his car. When Lundy Fields, MBA, CNA and President/CEO of VNA, learned about this crisis, he was deeply distraught. “I felt such compassion for them as the patients are already worried about their health and now, they have to deal with keeping a roof over their heads due to investors buying their property and increasing the rent,” says Lundy.
And the crisis is not exclusive to Indian River County, it reflects a national trend. According to an article in The New York Times by German Lopez on July 15, 2022, rent has increased nationally at its fastest rate since 1986. And it’s disproportionately negatively impacting the vulnerable populations, including the elderly on fixed incomes. To address this issue locally, the Indian River County Rental Assistance office began offering new Emergency Housing Vouchers (EHVs) and funding authorized by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, but unfortunately they have run out of vouchers and funding, according to the Treasure Coast Homeless Services Council, . While more should be available in the next “cycle,” it wasn’t clear when that would begin.
In the meantime, people on the brink of homelessness or already homeless have limited options in Indian River County. One of them is the Hope For Families Center that’s located at 720 4th Street in Vero Beach that provides temporary room and board for individuals and families and helps them attain permanent housing (to contact them call 772-567-5537). The other option is The Source, which in addition to its “Dignity Bus,” offers lunch and dinner daily free of charge. Breakfast is also available most days on a “made to order” basis. In addition, The Source provides showers seven days a week at specified times (visit its website, www.iamthesource.org for details).
By the time the VNA volunteer spoke with Elizabeth, she was no longer at The Source, she was in the hospital for a serious health issue – and nervous about being released: where would she go? At this point, she was beyond despondent, but thankfully the volunteer put her in touch with a compassionate VNA Physician Liaison, Samantha McCoy, who advocated on Elizabeth’s behalf and helped her attain housing in a local adult care facility. Unfortunately, this housing is not permanent, but at least now Elizabeth is not alone in her journey, she has Samantha, who will not stop advocating on her behalf until she is safely in her forever home. “Samantha is an angel,” says Elizabeth. Indeed.