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Homeless veterans receive free vehicles


Published:   |   Updated: June 13, 2013 at 06:58 AM

OLDSMAR - Things are looking up for the Coopers these days.

The family of five, which has been living a three-bedroom apartment at a Homeless Emergency Project shelter in Clearwater, had been trying to get by without a car since theirs broke down nearly a year ago.

Thanks to a nationwide program that places refurbished cars in the hands of homeless veterans, Jennifer and Leon Cooper will be hauling their three kids to band practice - or wherever - in a beige 2007 Toyota Sienna.

"Oh, my goodness. It's going to help out greatly," said Jennifer Cooper, 44, a former Army Reservist, said Wednesday after receiving the minivan.

"We can go places together. We go grocery shopping together. Church. Different things. If we want to go to the beach on the weekend we don't have to look at a bus schedule."

The Coopers are one of 60 homeless veteran families throughout the country who were handed the keys to refurbished, registered and insured cars or minivans on Wednesday. Edward Caswell, a 60-year-old Tampa Bay area veteran, also received a car Wednesday.

"They walk away with a free and clear vehicle," said Lance Edgy, a regional claims manager with Progressive Insurance, the company that spearheaded the project.

The Tampa Bay area recipients picked up their cars at the insurance company's Oldsmar center. Both vehicles were previously damaged in car crashes, then restored to their original conditions. Progressive paid to put the cars in the hands of military veterans in need, including covering their registration fees. Rental car company Enterprise paid for six months' worth of insurance.

Leon Cooper, 59, was a Marine from 1971 to 1976. He served in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and said he helped evacuate people during the fall of Saigon.

The project is a collaboration among Progressive Insurance, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, numerous local body shops, local VFW posts and homeless shelters.

Locally, the Homeless Emergency Project aims to draw attention to the high rate of homelessness among veterans.

"We have approximately 400 people that we serve each night at the shelter. Around a hundred and thirty of them are veterans," said Jackie Dryden, director of marketing for the project. "This is one more opportunity to help veterans and to work with community partners to help veterans."

Carswell, who is also staying at the Homeless Emergency Project's Clearwater shelter, was given a refurbished 2007 Mazda 3 Wednesday.

A maintenance worker at the Bay Pines Veterans Affairs Hospital, Carswell said the new wheels will help him work more hours - and further his education.

"I'm trying to get back in school to take some courses on computers," said Carswell, who served in the Army from 1975-1981. "I don't have any knowledge of computers."

Although, he looks forward to having more income potential, he said it took a bit for him to believe the free car was for real.

"I thought it was a joke," Carswell said. "I'm blessed."

kbradshaw@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7999

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