ORLANDO, Fla. – Volunteers wearing matching blue shirts urging people to "Rethink homelessness" set out at daybreak Monday to begin a program called "The Surge."
"(I have) really never seen anything like this in our community, and that is our leaders, and now our volunteers, coming together to help homeless veterans get off the streets for good," said Andrae Bailey, CEO and president of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness.
The volunteers include city leaders, including Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, citizens and some veterans looking to make Central Florida a better place for everyone to call home.
"It's like a mission to me, you know. Go out and rescue and recover those that thought that they were lost. So I'm just happy to be here today," said David Williams, a veteran who was recently homeless.
Hundreds of people are volunteering this week for The Surge. The initiative, prompted by President Barack Obama, is part of the city's mission to end veterans homelessness by the end of the year.
Teams of volunteers report each hour for a pre-determined shift. The group goes through a briefing before heading out with bags filled with toiletries and snacks and clipboards with various paperwork. Their mission is to find and identify the homeless, document their information and then get their data entered into a system that will be used to eventually put them on a path to housing.
The goal is find people like Grant McKenzie, who volunteers identified Monday morning. McKenzie, a disabled Vietnam veteran who has been homeless for more than 20 years after losing his benefits, was found sitting on a park bench near Lake Eola.
Once volunteers told him about The Surge, they got the proper VA representatives in touch with him.
McKenzie said the program brings him a renewed hope that he's been seeking.
"This is a good time for me to get on board, you know," he said.