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Teen tenaciously chases goal to end veteran homelessness

Lakewood Ranch's Lorenzo Liberti started the Give-A-Buck Foundation to build housing for veterans.

Lorenzo Liberti holds one of his hand carved flags.
Lorenzo Liberti holds one of his hand carved flags.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer
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For some, changing the world can seem so easy at 16 years old. 

Lakewood Ranch's Lorenzo Liberti, the founder of the nonprofit Give-A-Buck Foundation, was convinced three years ago he was on his way to doing just that after raising $30,000 for homeless veterans.

“I’d never seen that much money in my life,” the now 19-year-old said. “But I realized that $30,000 in today’s government system of how traditional nonprofits work, it didn’t go too far. It didn’t take anybody off the street permanently.”

Now, instead of donating to nonprofits like Turning Points that are limited on how much each client can receive in aid, Liberti is carving out his own path to help veterans with his foundation.

Part of that involves literal carving. Liberti carves rustic American Flags. The sales from Heroic Flags help fund the Give-A-Buck Foundation. 

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, when teenagers and adults alike were binge watching "Tiger King" on Netflix, Liberti spent his time getting his flags into hospitals across all 50 states.

So despite any disappointment he felt by not taking any veterans off the street with that initial $30,000, Liberti’s dreams have only soared higher since. 

“The end goal of Give-A-Buck is to create something like a college campus where you have job training, a place to stay, meals, etcetera,” Liberti said. “Veterans Affairs is right down the street, not all the way up in a different city.”

Each year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development performs a Point-in-Time count to estimate the homeless population. In 2023, there were 35,574 veterans counted as homeless, which was a 7.4% increase from 2022. 

The naivety of the 16-year-old has worn off. Liberti is fully aware how lofty the dream of a campus is and that it will take many years and much fundraising to accomplish. 

However, he also sees how easy it could be if everyone would just give a buck. By Liberti’s calculations, if every American donated $1 a week for one year, he could build a campus large enough to end veteran homelessness.

Staff at Flagstaff Medical Center in Arizona unveil one of Liberti's flags. In 2019, the teenager got a flag into one hospital in each of the 50 states.
Courtesy image

He’s also got a plan for the interim. He’s banked enough money that he’s looking to buy a house for veterans now. This, too, has been easier said than done. Not all neighborhoods will allow a rent-by-room type of set up. 

He thought he found a house this year that would work. It had the bedrooms and bathrooms to house up to eight veterans, but when he saw the neighborhood, it was no longer an option.

“Why put homeless vets in a bad area? It’s not helping them,” he said. “That was a shame.” 

But Liberti is never deterred, even though he’s taken some hits over the years. 

He’s been helping veterans one by one along the way. He said some are more stubborn than others. They see help from a teenager as a handout, and their unwillingness to accept his help has been among the disappointments. 

“This was the first time I heard it from a veteran. We were trying to get him into housing, and he said, ‘Listen man, you’re a saint, but I’m not feeling like a man right now,’” Liberti said. “That hurt.” 

Experiences like that only make Liberti more determined to get a group home up and running because with it comes a sense of brotherhood and belonging. 

“If you put a whole bunch of people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in a room, you’ll realize that person doesn’t feel alone. They’re depressed when nobody understands,” Liberti said. “It’s why cops are so close together, why the military is so close together. It’s one of those tribes.” 

Liberti is on track to accomplish his own dream of becoming part of a brotherhood. His goal is to become a police officer. The only problem right now is that he’s not old enough to carry a firearm. 

To start, he’s working as a corrections officer for the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office until he can go through police training. He hopes to eventually become a SWAT Team member.

Edwin Robinson now sits on the board for Heroic Flags, but he was a case manager at Turning Points when Liberti first approached the nonprofit. Liberti said Robinson was the first adult, outside his parents, to truly take him and his mission seriously. 

“Here’s a young teenager wanting to talk to us about veteran homelessness,” Robinson said. “You can say a lot about teenagers these days, but this all started with a 16-year-old looking around his community and asking a question: Why are veterans homeless when they fought for our country?”



Lesley Dwyer

Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.

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