A chance to give back to our vets

bmorem@thetribunenews.comMay 15, 2013 

Bill Morem

The numbers are nothing less than a national disgrace: Between 130,000 and 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night nationwide; 16,500 of those unfortunates live in California; it’s believed that of the 4,000 homeless in San Luis Obispo County, 10 percent are veterans.

“For the homeless and at-risk veteran and their families in San Luis Obispo County and elsewhere, life on the streets is debilitating at best,” said Dana Cummings, veterans service officer for San Luis Obispo County.

“Suffering from lack of shelter, unemployment, physical and emotional disabilities, and lack of food, the homeless and at-risk veteran often feels completely isolated from mainstream society and unable to break out of the self-perpetuating cycle of homelessness,” he added.

Of those who do seek help, many can’t access it because the services are spread out over a wide geographic area — leading to frustration, he said. “Imagine how the veteran feels knowing he or she has given so much for their country, yet find themselves scraping for food and shelter.”

That’s why a “Stand Down” is slated for this weekend in San Luis Obispo — and hundreds of other communities nationwide.

The term itself came into being around World War I and allows battle-weary, combat-fatigued units to get off the battlefield to a place of safety and refuge in order to rest and recover.

The term has now taken on a broader meaning: Americans helping Americans.

Through the generous good graces of local businesses, VFW, American Legion, Goodwill, Red Cross, the county and others, the Stand Down will be held at the Veterans Memorial Building, 801 Grand Ave., from 6 p.m. on Saturday to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

During that time, veterans and their families will have access to medical and dental attention, employment counseling, mental health services, legal services and advice, haircuts, showers, food, clothing, pet care and other services.

Overnight sleeping arrangements will be provided for up to 40 veterans. A barbecue dinner will be served Saturday night, as well as breakfast and lunch on Sunday.

“In assisting our veterans who are homeless,” Cummings explained, “we realize that sometimes it takes just one small service for them to break out of the cycle of homelessness, such as needing a photo identification card, a bus token, a pair of shoes to start a new job, or not having any funds to pay for their fines that compound into a bench warrant.

“It is our desire to offer these veterans a safe environment that will encourage and assist them in finding their place in a community they swore their life to defend,” he added.

Veterans are encouraged to preregister through the local Veterans Services office, in the Veterans Memorial Building on Grand Avenue in San Luis Obispo. Volunteers are needed, and donations are appreciated. Contact the Veterans Services Office at 781-5766; also email Travis Rochelle at trochelle@co.slo.ca.us and Dilah Laird at dilahlaird@gmail.com.

Bill Morem can be reached at 781-7852.

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