SEMINOLE, Fla. (WFLA) — A Veterans Affairs Department program helped several Tampa Bay veterans get off the street, but a collision of skyrocketing rent and red tape has left them facing homelessness again.
As Lakeith Amir-Sharif entered his roughly 700-square-foot apartment, he wondered if he would have a door to unlock on June 1.
“I don’t have a place to go, man,” Amir-Sharif said, fighting back emotions. “Where am I going? Where am I going?”
Amir-Sharif, 58, has already battled the VA for decades over denied benefits for what he claims is a service- related head injury and PTSD.
“[I’ve had headaches] Since ’81,” he said.
Amir-Sharif said he was told, despite an honorable discharge from the Navy in 1981, he did not serve long enough to qualify for medical and other benefits.
“I got [medical help] for a while,” Amir-Sharif said. “Then something changed.”
Amir-Sharif, a criminal investigator for the Pinellas County Public Defender’s Office, is now looking for another type of help from the VA. He was homeless for about two years, but the agency’s Rapid Rehousing Program helped him move into Seminole Vista by covering his $1,050 monthly rent.
Then, the complex was purchased and the rent was increased by $450 a month. The VA deemed it too pricey, leaving several veterans looking for other sources of help.
Amir-Sharif had just started paying his own rent but said $1,500 a month would leave him with about $500 for the rest of his expenses. Even if the veterans could afford it, the new owners sent out a letter stating, “we will not be renewing your lease agreement.”
“I think part of the problem was the rent payments were not always on time,” Amir-Sharif said. “Several of us reached out to the VA in March or earlier. No one could help us.”
Making it worse, Amir-Sharif said the belongings of several veterans who were already evicted were thrown into the Seminole Vista courtyard “like garbage.”
“The way they did Rick and Mike and the rest of them here?” Amir-Sharif recalled, referencing a couple of his friends, “after the VA’s programs are the ones that kept this property going for years? It upsets me.”
The property manager has not responded to requests for comment about the evictions or claims veterans’ personal items were discarded.
8 On Your Side also reached out to local congressmen, but so far they have not been able to help Amir-Sharif or the others.
According to VA Network Homeless Coordinator Steven Tilman, transitional housing may be available for these veterans. He said the VA is working with them.
Tilman said regulations for housing vouchers are based on government fair market rent standards, but he acknowledged Tampa Bay area rent increases have climbed above that in many cases. Tilman asked for help from lawmakers, landlords and others to control rent costs and to create more affordable housing.
“We can’t give them what we don’t have,” Tilman said. “And we don’t have affordable housing.”
Amir-Sharif remains hopeful, but he wonders if he is out of time.
“It’s rough,” he said. “[They need to] help all of us. All of us. There’s too many vets on the street.”
Amir-Sharif said 8 On Your Side calls and emails have prompted the VA to reopen his disability claim but the clock continues to tick on figuring out where he will live next.