The plight of homeless military veterans in the U.S. keeps growing, but a local group is planning a major effort in Tallahassee a few months from now to help this area’s homeless vets achieve more normal lives.
Joe West tells the story of a veteran on the edge who almost lost everything.
“That veteran did not end up on the street because other veterans stuck out their hands and prevented him from going there when they found out about it. He had fallen through the cracks of the programs that we have available. I am that veteran.”
Today, West is president of Veterans Events Tallahassee, the group now in charge of Leon County’s Veterans Day Parade among other things. On Wednesday, West was among several veterans and their advocates standing before the media on the twenty-second floor of the Florida Capitol.
“Please think about the fact that, on any given night, you could all look out from this beautiful vantage point and know that under all of those trees are several hundred homeless veterans within your eyesight.”
And with that, West announced a three-day event called the “Homeless Veterans Stand Down”.
“Based on the very successful model of the San Diego Stand Down, which is now in its twenty-fifth year, we will be converting a portion of the North Florida Fairgrounds into that secure area where homeless and at-risk veterans and their family members can rest, resupply and more.”
In essence, the Stand Down site will resemble a military field camp. It will supply the vets with free food, hot showers, personal hygiene kits and, West says, other services.
“Veterans Administration medical personnel as well as area civilian medical teams will be providing a plethora of medical services – including but not limited to – physical health, hearing, glasses, dentistry and we’ll be having mental health professionals available as well at the base.”
There will also be referrals to substance abuse treatment programs and an on-site courtroom. That’s to adjudicate minor scrapes any vet may have had with the law. One of the main sponsors of the Stand Down is the Florida Veterans Foundation and its Chair John Haines says all this is to help those who served and then got off track regain their rightful place in society.
“We as Americans feel that we can do no less then to offer everything in our power to bring these veterans back into our community.”
This is the first time a Stand Down of this magnitude has been tried locally. But Joe West is confident it will attract a large crowd.
"We have the opportunity to reach out to some of these people and we’re anticipating three to four hundred veterans, possibly five-hundred veterans and family members at this event. Now will all of those people get clean and sober and jump for joy? No. But we will plant the seed that it’s possible.”
And that, West says, can be the start of a life regained. The Tallahassee Stand Down for Homeless Veterans takes place April fifth, sixth and seventh at the North Florida Fairgrounds.