TUSTIN, Calif. --
Marines and Sailors with I Marine Expeditionary Force set up shop at the 2015 Orange County Veterans Day Stand Down, Oct. 22-25, to provide homeless, displaced or disabled veterans a place to rest.
While Hangar No. 2, measuring 1,072 feet long, 292 feet wide, and 192 feet tall at the former Marine Corps Air Station, quickly filled with hundreds of tables, stands, and people in preparation for the arrival of attending veterans, I MEF service members focused on the main effort: shelter. In the blazing sun, they laboriously set up ten enormous tents and filled them with 250 cots for homeless veterans to have a safe place to spend the weekend.
Showers, clothing, blankets and three square meals a day, things that often escape our social conscious, were simple acts of kindness provided to veterans.
“Hallelujah…” praised one veteran as she walked into a tent reserved for female veterans hugging a fresh towel and warm blanket with a bag of toiletries in hand.
The mission of the Orange County Stand Down is to help military veterans with a continuum of opportunities, most of them basic social services including medical, dental and vision exams and care; mental health and substance abuse counseling; employment and housing assistance; legal assistance; children’s services and daycare; chiropractor appointments and massages; and veteran’s and social security benefits identification and assistance.
Generous sponsors, to include a wide array of non-profit organizations, community groups and government agencies, as well as the tireless work and continued perseverance of its volunteers on the ground made this life-changing event possible.
“At one point in my life, I was a homeless veteran,” explained Steve England, a prior Marine and Stand Down volunteer. “I like to make sure the veterans get to the services that fit their individual needs.”
England looks forward to helping each year and has been a part of the Stand Down’s navigation team since its grand opening in 2011. As the mixture of tents, stands, and people are oftentimes overwhelming to new veterans, the navigation team is there to connect with them one-on-one and direct them to needed resources.“
If I can get one person a place to live or a job, my 20 hours of service is all worth it,” says Sheryl Anderson, a non-veteran volunteer on the navigation team, whose favorite place at the Stand Down is the clothing section.
“I love to take them ‘shopping’ for new outfits,” Anderson adds.
After setting up shelter for the veterans, the Marines and Sailors got involved with the navigation team, helping the navigators accompany veterans to their section of choice. For many of the I MEF service members, the Stand Down was eye opening.
“It really puts things into perspective,” says Sgt. James Creller, a food service specialist with Food Service Company, Headquarters Regiment, 1st Marine Logistics Group. “This opportunity allows us to talk to people who have gone through heavy hardships in life and to see what support is available for them.”
During a heartfelt closing ceremony, several veterans came forward about how much the Stand Down helped them. One female veteran divulged in front of a crowd of other veterans and volunteers, “After a nightmare of a past month, losing everything I had, the volunteers here made me and my girls feel like it was Christmas morning.”
“I was able to keep my children safely at the play area while the navigators and Marines showed me around,” she continued. “The resources here have allowed me to obtain the education, housing, and overall support I need to get my life back on track.”
This veteran pledged to return as a volunteer next year.
According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, there are 23 million homeless veterans in the U.S., and according to the Homeless Research Institute (2007), these veterans represent 26 percent of the homeless population. Additional research by the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans shows that veterans are twice as likely as other Americans to become chronically homeless. Causes of this probability include a lack of income due to limited education and lack of transferable skills from military to civilian life; combat-related physical and mental health issues and disabilities; weak social networks due to problems adjusting to civilian life; substance abuse problems that interfere with job retention; and a lack of services.
America was founded on the principle of selfless service. It was founded by those who bravely risked - and many times gave – their lives in the defense of our country. Yet, the struggle is not over for many former service members. Please take a moment to acknowledge the veteran community. Whether it’s a simple “thank you,” taking the time to get to know a local veteran, or getting involved in a Stand Down, our veterans need and would appreciate the support.
If you are interested in volunteering or would like more information on the Orange County Stand Down, please visit their website at http://www.vfwpost9934.org/events/orange-county-stand-down-for-homeless-veterans.