Advocates say homelessness among Leon County veterans is falling dramatically. Now they have a new secret weapon.
Beginning in October, Leon County Judge Augustus Aikens will preside over Veteran’s Court. The retired Army colonel hopes to spend more of his time coordinating services than handing down sentences. The idea is to treat the mental health and addiction problems that keep veterans tied to the streets.
“What we envision in this program is that the veteran’s treatment court uses an integrated approach to, an integrated, non-adversarial approach, toward prosecution.”
Throwing sick veterans in jail doesn’t work, says Judge Steve Leifman, a member of the Florida Supreme Court’s substance abuse and mental health task force.
“They’re still going to come out with their mental health issues. And so unless and until you really address those underlying mental health issues, the chances of the persons coming back and maybe getting involved or doing something criminal again is increased.”
Claude Shipley, a program director with the Florida Veterans Foundation, says something as simple as substituting community service for a traffic fine can be life changing for someone living on the edge.
“People can get licenses at that point, to be able to drive, they can get identification, so checks can be passed.”
Shipley expects the homeless veteran population to hit “functional zero,” by the end of this year or sooner. That means enough subsidized housing for homeless veterans who want it, with enough left over for those who refuse to come off the streets or out of the woods.