REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- One homeless veteran is one veteran too many.
Which is why Operation Stand Down Huntsville will not rest until that number reaches zero.
Operation Stand Down returns to lend a helping hand to the Huntsville area's approximately 100 homeless veterans Oct. 17-19 at the True Light Church of God in Christ, 6380 Pulaski Pike. While the annual three-day event has become a staple in the Rocket City, that was never the goal for organizers, who would rather wipe out homelessness among veterans entirely rather than organize a stand down for the next 30 years.
"This is a year-round issue. It's just not a three-day event and a fall issue," said Sandra Childress, president of the 501c3. "It's year-round. Let's start to treat it like it's year-round, and eventually we'll chip away at that. Are you going to get all 100 veterans off the street? Maybe not, but at least give them the opportunity."
The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated there were just under 50,000 homeless veterans across the nation in January. While that number represents a 33 percent drop since 2010, it's a number that's still too high.
To help change those numbers in the Tennessee Valley, which is about 100, according to Childress, the nonprofit has set up shop at 4000 Marie Ave., Suite B, near the KFC on Jordan Lane, where homeless veterans can stop by Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. to take a shower and get a fresh change of clothes, receive assistance with their disability or Social Security paperwork, and find other services they're eligible for that they might not be aware of. The organization is also working to get a washer and dryer, so veterans can wash their clothes.
"These guys and gals are homeless every day," Childress said. "Every day. And there's a great many reasons for it. Are you going to fix their reasons? No. But can you help overcome some of the second and third order effects that come from that? Absolutely we can. There's just no reason in the Huntsville, Alabama, area that we can't take care of people who have served this country. They fought for us, let's fight for them."
At the heart of that fight is the annual Stand Down, which provides the veterans hot meals, a safe place to sleep and relax, entertainment, clean clothes, a haircut, medical and dental screenings, legal advice, assistance applying for services they are eligible for through the VA, as well as help finding a job. Shuttles will be available for veterans.
"Operation Stand Down is a way to take our care a little bit deeper for those three days," Childress said. "It's a lifestyle that all the rest of us take for granted -- a hot shower, clean clothes. You do that every day. This is their opportunity to have somebody treat you special, but it's only for three days a year."
The event begins at 7 a.m. on Oct. 17 and ends around 1 p.m. Oct. 19. An opening ceremony will be held Saturday, Oct. 18, at 11 a.m. Childress is looking for volunteers, whether it be to assist with setup and cleanup or cook breakfast.
The nonprofit is also organizing a "Change for Veterans" coin drive. Local businesses and organizations are encouraged to collect their change to donate to OSDH to "make a change for the better in the life of a veteran." For more information, call 517-8171 or visit www.osdh.org.