Operation Code Vet Helps Some of the Most Vulnerable Hillsborough County Residents
On a hot, overcast September morning in Plant City, Habitat for Humanity of Hillsborough County volunteers, along with James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital employees, were coated in white paint and bug spray. They were on-site at Army veteran Lewis Smith's house, painting, installing a new front porch, and clearing vegetation and debris. This project was made possible by a collaboration between partners Operation Code Vet and Habitat for Humanity of Hillsborough County, Florida, Inc.
This is how Operation Code Vet (OCV) typically works:
- Hillsborough County Code Enforcement receives a report of a code violation.
- Code Enforcement officers visit the property associated with the violation and speak with the homeowner.
- During the visit with the resident, officers ask them questions about their circumstances. If the homeowner identifies themselves as a veteran, the officer will contact OCV.
- OCV interviews the veteran to see if they can provide the resources to support their home project. They then perform a background check, a vet check, and bring the case to OCV's Board of Directors for approval.
- If the scope of work is manageable for OCV, the organization raises funds, solicits donations of goods and services, and coordinates volunteers.
- In many cases, OCV partners with local organizations, like Habitat for Humanity, to utilize its resources for larger scale rehabilitation projects.
- Once the resources are secured, volunteers get to work restoring the homeowner's property and getting it back within compliance.
In the case of Mr. Smith, Code Enforcement Officers quickly discovered that he is a Vietnam War combat veteran and qualified for OCV's services. Originally from New Jersey, Mr. Smith's family moved just north of Ocala when he was a child. He settled in Plant City in 1991, where he still resides. Sadly, his wife passed away in 2022, and the property became too much to maintain. Since OCV stepped in, his home has gained a new roof, soffits, fencing, a front porch awning, and a dog run, as well as fresh coats of paint on the exterior. When asked how this program has impacted him, he answered "it means a whole lot."
Started in 2017, Operation Code Vet's mission is to help Hillsborough County veterans with the maintenance of their homes and to improve quality of life through community partnerships. This program is mutually beneficial to the veterans it directly serves, and to the community at large through neighborhood beautification. To date, OCV has helped more than 300 veterans avoid Code violation fines and citations. But OCV's work doesn't stop at maintenance work - they also get the veterans connected to Veterans Services Organization staff to apply for benefits - often getting the veteran homeowner hundreds of dollars per month in benefits they didn't even know existed. The organization prides itself on being there for warriors at home. Learn more about Operation Code Vet.