COCOA, Fla. – Jerry Vaughan and Bobbie Warner have helped house and furnish the apartments of 142 veterans in Brevard County.
Their nonprofit, Down The Road Thrift in Cocoa, is a one-stop shop, providing clothing and basic necessities to any veteran in need.
Jerry Vaughan, a Navy veteran whose father and grandfather also served, said that with Brevard County's large veteran population, there's a need.
"This store was put together to address the issues of the homeless and in-need veterans in Brevard," Vaughan said. "It's just our way of doing the right thing and giving back to the community,"
According to the VA and the Florida Council on Homelessness Annual Report, homelessness among veterans in Florida has been effectively cut in half since 2011.
A significant reason for the substantial decrease are national initiatives to end veteran homelessness.
In Florida, millions of dollars have been invested through VA Supportive Services for Veteran Families grants, as well as HUD VA Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers that provide long-term rental assistance to help homeless veterans with high needs obtain and sustain permanent housing.
Vaughan said getting into housing is just the first step. For many, furnishing their home is the next challenge.
"Think about it. You get put into an apartment and the VA essentially gives you a bed. That's kind of like a jail cell. You have nothing else in there," Vaughan said.
Any veteran can come to his store and pick up items for their entire apartment at no charge.
Down The Road Thrift has everything you would expect in a thrift store but beyond the clothing, housewares and furniture, there is also a room Vaughan calls the "Foot Locker."
The storage room is painted in military green and decorated with photos, American flags, plaques and awards. The items were donated along with all the other things in the store. Vaughan said they likely belonged to service members who have died.
"These are all things that come to us out of garage sales and estate sales when family just doesn't want it anymore," Vaughn said.
The items have value and he displays them with pride, calling it a wall of honor.
Inside the Foot Locker, Vaughan stores canned food, toiletries and camping gear. These are all things that homeless veterans who are still living in the woods can use.
Vaughan and Warner said they are willing to help veterans any way they can. In fact, Vaughan said he has, on a number of occasions, provided transportation and helped veterans move.
That was the case with World War II veteran Philip Bradstreet and his wife, Cynthia. The 92-year-old was living in substandard conditions and decided to move closer to family in Winter Garden.
The couple had no way of loading their possessions onto a moving truck and were unable to pay someone to help.
Vaughan loaded their moving truck and helped them with their move across Central Florida.
Bradstreet, who served aboard the USS Astoria in the Pacific, is in a wheelchair. His wife said Vaughan was there when they needed him.
"This is not a handout; it's a hand up," she said. "We are now in a beautiful place."
Down The Road Thrift Shop relies entirely on items donated locally. Vaughan and Warner say they always need furniture appropriate for small spaces, camping gear, toiletries and canned food.
You can find more information here on their website.
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