Seth Eisenberg
3 min readJan 23, 2021


homeless veteran
Buford James Kelly at the hotel in Fort Lauderdale, December 2020.

He was good with boats.

Buford James Kelly wanted his Operation Sacred Trust Care Manager to know that when he reached our agency in May for an intake that he hoped would end the life of homelessness he’d come to know after his marriage broke-up and he’d left the marital home and partnership that had been the foundation of his life.

COVID-19 testing for homeless veteran
COVID-19 testing at Operation Sacred Trust emergency hotel helped keep Mr. Kelly safe.

Concerned for his health and well-being, our agency immediately placed the Vietnam-era Air Force Veteran in a local hotel with other homeless Veterans seeking shelter from the storm of COVID-19 that had descended on South Florida, aiming with particularly deadly force at our elderly and health challenged family, friends, and neighbors. During that period, on any given night our agency was housing nearly 200 at-risk Veterans in local hotels.

We quickly learned that Mr. Kelly liked to be called Cowboy — a moniker he’d embraced from the time of his vibrant youth.

homeless veteran
OST Engagement Specialist and fellow Veteran Noah Eisenmann, left, celebrates with Cowboy at Fort Lauderdale hotel.

When Cowboy turned 77 in August, there were team members and other Veterans there to celebrate with him.

Through every interaction, our team became even more touched by Cowboy’s sense of humor, resilience, and passion for life.

By December, our care team had found an Assisted Living Facility that could provide a safe home for Cowboy and the services he needed to navigate a chapter of his life very different than so many that had come before. The day he left the hotel and the safe shelter of Operation Sacred Trust that he’d known for six months, was both a celebration and day of sadness for all who would miss Mr. Kelly.

This week, I learned that things had not gone well for Mr. Kelly at the Assisted Living Facility. He’d left shortly after he arrived and again found himself struggling to find safe ground.

I don’t know why Mr. Kelly didn’t call my cell phone when things went array, as he’d done many times before. I would have ensured he received help getting to a safe place with the commitment I’d show any loved member of my family.

I still don’t know all the details, but I learned this week that it was all too much for Cowboy. His heart gave out and Buford James Kelly passed away.

May he Rest In Peace and his memory be a blessing.

homeless veteran
Buford James Kelly (1944–2020)



Seth Eisenberg

Seth Eisenberg is Chairman and CEO of Purpose Built Families Foundation and Co-Founder of the Operation Sacred Trust program for ending Veteran homelessness.