On October 30, 2023, shovels broke fresh ground on one of the most transformational and powerful opportunities for our region.
At Gulf Coast Community Foundation (Gulf Coast), we address emerging needs, transforming our region through bold and proactive philanthropy, together with our donors. Our Veterans Housing Initiative was no exception. First, we identified a need – safe, permanent, veterans housing in Sarasota for up to one year. Second, we focused on the power of partnership – convening stakeholders, donors, government, and a nonprofit to create the very first veterans housing project in Sarasota.
Together with generous philanthropists, collaboration is underway to support our veterans. Veterans are the backbone of our country. They protect our freedom through courage, strength, and dedication. We value the significance of caring for our military heroes. With partners, a supportive community, and local government, we are transforming housing for veterans in need. We are serving those who first served us.
According to the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs reports there are 19.1 million veterans living in the United States, including 1,492,000 veterans in the state of Florida. One homeless veteran is too many. Our community has such powerful services to make a difference in veterans’ lives and the lives of their families. We have a duty to take care of our veterans. This permanent housing can mean the difference between giving our veterans a place to call home or surviving a night on the streets.
Our vision for this Veterans Housing Initiative is to serve those who first served us, by lending a hand up. This initiative will provide housing to homeless veterans and their families, while also providing complete case management services that include, but are not limited to, rehabilitation, mental health, educational and employment opportunities, and permanent, affordable housing services. This program will align with the Veteran’s Administration and will be guided by President Lincoln's promise, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans.
Through our initiative, ten rental units are planned in the City of Sarasota for low-income veterans, providing long-awaited, affordable housing to help our nation’s heroes. The units will be managed by St. Vincent de Paul CARES (SVdP), a nonprofit whose vision is to create a community with an improved quality of life for all by eliminating poverty and homelessness. Reducing regional homelessness has been a priority of Gulf Coast’s. Gulf Coast donors brought SVdP CARES to Sarasota to create rapid rehousing opportunities that had been identified as a top priority by local government and the Housing Authority. SVdP CARES has a successful track record of building and operating affordable housing for veterans.
Instrumental Support – Over $1 Million in Partnerships
Peter Soderberg of the Peter and Elsa Soderberg Charitable Foundation, and Skip and Gail Sack of the Sack Family Foundation, are the original donors who collaborated with Gulf Coast on the idea of a veterans housing project. Once the idea came to fruition, they were the first to give catalytic gifts for this project in the amount of $400,000 and the trust and support to make veterans housing a reality. Gulf Coast partnered with the Office of Housing and Community Development to leverage $400,000 public dollars they had available to support this project.
Skip Sack is a veteran who has been instrumental in leading the charge for veterans' assistance in our community for many years. He shares this about the project, “This country owes a debt of gratitude to our Veterans, specifically those who fought in the Korean Crisis, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. We need to do more for our Veterans, especially those who came back with life-altering physical and emotional disabilities. No one who fought for this country should be sleeping in their car or on the streets. Gail and I are dedicated to helping those Veterans in need. Kudos to Gulf Coast Community Foundation and in particular, Jon Thaxton and C.J. Bannister, for spearheading this most worthwhile project.”
Peter Soderberg has a heart for serving veterans and is working with several national organizations on veteran's issues that are important to him. Supporting veterans' services is a priority for his foundation. Peter shares, “Elsa and I have been working on Veterans Assistance Programs elsewhere for over five years. Though we are Boca Grande residents, I currently serve as a Board member of Gulf Coast Community Foundation, so it was only natural that we focused on Sarasota County and the needs of disadvantaged veterans living there. According to the National Veterans Resource Center at Syracuse University, Sarasota County is home to over 39,000 veterans; however, 32% are living with disabilities and 5% are living below the poverty level. This data shocked us into initiating this project through our great collaborators, the Sacks and Gulf Coast Community Foundation. We thank our local government officials for enabling this public-private partnership to benefit those to whom we owe so much.”
Since January 2022, a 5-0 vote from the City Commission for land use, a unanimous YES from the Citizens Planning Commission, and the support of incredible partners like the City of Sarasota, Office of Housing and Community Development, Congressman Steube, Congressman Buchanan, Bill Sterbinsky (President, SRQ Vets), and Carlos Moreira (President, Sarasota County Veterans Commission), we are thrilled to be breaking ground on Sarasota’s first veteran’s housing project. Together with generous donors, our Board approved $300,000 for this project, bringing our total commitments to over $1 million.
In addition to SRQ Vets, Sarasota Kiwanis, Gratitude America, and Veteran’s Outreach (via our Hurricane Ian Recovery Initiative), Gulf Coast’s Project HEAL is assisting Community Assisted Supported Living (CASL), Harvest House, Family Promise of South Sarasota County, and Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness to become trauma-informed organizations and they serve veterans experiencing homelessness in Sarasota County. We also awarded $10,000 to Coordinated Assistance Network (VeteransPlus) for financial counseling for veterans in need in the Bay Pines VA Healthcare system catchment area from our Area of the Greatest Need Initiative Fund.
Click here to learn more about our Veterans Housing Initiative. To learn how you can make an impact on this project, please click here. Our Philanthropy team stands ready to help you make a meaningful difference in the lives of our veterans.