Port Richey community answers call to help homeless veteran

By Sarah Blazonis, Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, February 28, 2018, 6:20 PM EST

Thanks to support from residents across Tampa Bay and local organizations, a homeless veteran said she has hope that her life is about to get back on track.

“To me, it’s kind of like a whole new life,” said Patricia, 60, an Army veteran who asked that we not use her last name.

Port Richey Police were checking on an abandoned car last week when they came across Patricia’s camp. She showed them her veteran ID card, and told them she’d served from 1979-1982.

Recent issues with housing and her health left her homeless. Chief Gerard DeCanio said he knew the department had to take ownership of the situation.

“When we offered her help, she agreed to take the help,” Chief DeCanio said. “That’s a big step for us, for law enforcement. When we go to a lot of these homeless camps, some of these people just don’t want the help.”

DeCanio appealed to the community, asking for assistance in transporting Patricia and her belongings to North Carolina, where she has family. He said he received calls from all over Tampa Bay from individuals who wanted to donate.

More than $1,000 was collected. Businesses also offered their services.

“She’s a beautiful person inside and out, and I’m very glad that I can help,” said Diane Cox, a cosmetologist at Hair Obsessions in Port Richey.

Cox is married to a Port Richey police officer, and the salon offered free haircuts for Patricia and a companion.

DeCanio said U-Haul also offered the use of one of their trucks at a discounted price. That ended up not being necessary after the Society of St. Vincent DePaul reached out to the department.

Jennifer Smith, program manager for St. Vincent DePaul Cares Pasco County, said she found out about Patricia’s situation through an earlier Spectrum Bay News 9 report. She told police the organization could help Patricia through its Supportive Services for Veteran Families – or SSVF – grant program funded through the VA.

Smith said the program could help with emergency housing and transportation for Patricia and her belongings to North Carolina.

Smith said situations like Patricia’s are very common in Pasco.

“We do assist veterans who are chronically homeless,” she said. “However, for the majority of the veterans that we assist, they’ve just fallen on hard times. Most of us are just a paycheck or two or three away from being homeless.”

A representative from St. Vincent DePaul was one of those who helped Patricia pack up her camp site for good.

“I was trying to do it myself, and it was my mistake that I guess anybody might’ve made,” Patricia said of becoming homeless. “But some things you can’t do by yourself.”

DeCanio said donations are still being collected for Patricia. Anyone interested in contributing can reach out to the Port Richey Police at (727) 816-1919.