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‘I see a lot of love’: Stand Down returns as full weekend event for homeless veterans

Charles Nesbitt said he is tired of sleeping on the street.

“I came here motivated to change,” the Navy veteran said Friday morning.

Nesbitt, 55, was one of about 150 people who showed up for the first day of Stand Down, a three-day event held at Roosevelt High School in San Diego to help homeless veterans.

Veterans Village of San Diego created the event 35 years ago to connect homeless veterans with services that could help them overcome addictions, find housing and employment, and provide a sense of community.

By the end of the event on Sunday, about 500 veterans are expected to have participated, with many staying in tents that could hold about 300 people.

“It’s all about connections and community,” said VVSD President and CEO Akilah Templeton.

Attendance was expected to be down this year from the last three-day event held in 2019, which drew about 700 people.

Templeton said the decline can be seen as an encouraging sign, with fewer veterans locally and nationally experiencing homelessness. This year’s count of homelessness in San Diego County found 378 veterans living without shelter and 308 in shelters.

In 2020, the annual count found 623 veterans in shelters and 317 living without shelter, and the 2019 count found 644 veterans in shelters and 424 without shelter.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that homelessness among veterans has fallen by about 50 percent over the past decade nationwide, with about 37,100 reported in 2019.

Veterans are overrepresented in the homeless population nationally, with post-traumatic stress and addiction often cited as contributing factors. Nesbitt, homeless since 2020, said he spoke with someone at the VVSD table Friday morning and was accepted into the nonprofit’s rehabilitation housing program, which he will move into Sunday.

About 50 organizations participated in this year’s event, including Family Health Centers of San Diego, the Legal Aid Society of San Diego, Humanity Showers, the Veterans Administration and the Red Cross. On the high school tennis court, booths included Interfaith Community Services, People Helping the Homeless, Father Joe’s Villages and Bayview Behavioral Health Center.

Attendees could also get haircuts, pick clothes from a dozen racks and tables, and get lunch and dinner from the Gary Sinise Foundation, a first-time sponsor.

Veteran and volunteer Gerald Porter (left) helps veteran Fred Bale pick out a pair of pants during the Veterans Village of San Diego Stand Down on Friday.

(Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Inside the school library, representatives from the DMV and the District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices worked to help veterans clean up their records and set court dates as part of Homeless court.

Clearing records of minor offenses can pave the way for homeless people to get their licenses reinstated or enroll in programs that could lead to housing and employment.

Doreen Garry, 64, said the court helped her clean up her DMV record and was relieved to learn she had no warrant for her outstanding fines, which she couldn’t pay.

“I thought if I got pulled over, I would go to jail,” she said, adding that fear sometimes prevented her from driving.

Gary has been homeless since her husband, Thomas, died two years ago. She has volunteered at Stand Down for 14 years and said she would appreciate how the event is helping her now.

“Tom would be happy,” she said. “He wouldn’t want to see me fight.”

Army veteran Dan Kelley, 64, said he has been homeless for 20 years and has been to Stand Down a few times before.

“I’m a student who struggles and tries to do the right thing,” said Kelley, who is enrolled in a community college with hopes of becoming a dental hygienist. “Stand Down has always been useful. They put you on the right path and give you the right thoughts. Once you start coming here, you start thinking about improving your life. Have a moment of clarity away from the BS, you know what I mean?”

Patricia Smith, Kelley’s friend of 30 years, is also homeless and said her father was a Navy veteran.

“I see a lot of love,” she said of Stand Down. “I see people putting their lives together and building on it.”

Arthur Lute, 60, served in the Marines, Navy and Army Reserves and was participating in Stand Down for the 11th time.

Lute had been homeless for about eight years and lived in his car while traveling from state to state looking for work. He said he was denied benefits for years because a clerical error by Veterans Affairs in Arizona classified him as a non-veteran, a situation that was not resolved until he moved to San Diego.

On his first visit to Stand Down, Lute said he turned down an offer of help from the VA because of his past experience.

“The next year, the same lady who knew me said, ‘Come here, I’m not letting you go this time,'” he recalled being told in a meeting with someone from the VA.

“I listened to him and three months later I got a housing voucher and I’ve been off the streets ever since,” she said.

No longer homeless, Lute said he will attend Stand Down on the weekend because his sons, ages 8 and 10, enjoy it.

Stand Down returned this weekend as a three-day event, after being held for just one day due to the pandemic for the past two years. It was held at San Diego High School for many years, but was moved to Roosevelt High School this year due to construction at the high school.

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‘I see a lot of love’: Stand Down returns as full weekend event for homeless veterans Source link ‘I see a lot of love’: Stand Down returns as full weekend event for homeless veterans

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