By Brian Lepley, Presidio of Monterey PAOOctober 3, 2016
PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, California -- Helping homeless veterans becomes the focus of the Army's home on the Central California Coast every two years.
The installation's assistance to the Veterans' Transition Center of Monterey County Stand Down is a tremendous advantage for the event, its lead organizer believes.
"The effort from the Presidio stands out among all the community partners that make this homeless veterans support event a reality," said Terry Bare, former executive director of VTC Monterey. "The resources they provide, the volunteers, and of course the location on former Fort Ord, make our stand down a tremendous success."
More than 370 vets from 21 California counties received an array of benefits Aug. 19-21 at the Presidio's Ord Military Community site. A tent city that housed, showered and fed the veterans was built, manned and torn down by more than 500 volunteers. Among the volunteer and community-funded services were medical, dental, barbers, legal and employment assistance, and benefits explained by regional veteran's services offices.
Besides the volunteers, community businesses donated $36,000 to the stand down, Bare said. While at the VTC, he organized stand downs in 2012, 2014 and this year. The last two have been at the OMC location.
"Few societal issues unite and motivate Americans to action like the veterans' homelessness problem," said Col. Lawrence Brown, commander of the Presidio of Monterey. "It's our pleasure and privilege to join this effort here in California."
The Presidio's employment readiness manager, Shaleena Thomasson, was there Aug. 20 in her official capacity.
"I was able to meet with 20 veterans, reviewed several resumes, and offered employment advice to them," she said. "Two of them were retirees and eligible for our ACS services so they were referred to come to my office later."
The Presidio's Family Advocacy Program Manager, Jay Ledford, volunteered at the stand down.
"It's our duty to continue to assist those who have served and pledged their lives to this country and as a combat veteran I feel the need to continue to serve my fellow brothers and sisters," he said. "The sheer number of resources available was a testament to how much the Presidio and local community cares about our veterans."
Using the military's property makes it easier for the VTC to house the homeless veterans for the three days in a tent city. Nearly $30,000 in temporary kitchens and food donations were manned over the weekend by volunteers from American Legion Post 31 in Salinas.
Col. Jan Norris, commander of Fort Hunter Liggett (85 miles south of the Presidio) and Col. Brown visited the stand down Aug. 19, speaking to attendees and volunteers, including disabled Army veteran Tony Virrueta. The Salinas resident has volunteered at all three of the VTC's Stand Downs.
"Being here puts my life into perspective and is quite humbling," Virrueta said. "I see participating and helping my fellow veterans is just another form of serving. I truly know that many of us come home after our service with scars on the outside, and the inside."
Ledford and Virrueta were two of the 506 volunteers that committed more than 4,250 hours to the stand down that weekend. Nine commercial buses were hired at a reduced rate to bring homeless veterans from as far away as 125 miles east of Monterey, north from San Francisco and as far south as San Luis Obispo.
The toughest personal challenges for all homeless veterans, Bare said, are legal and health problems. Each of the VTC's three stand downs have had specific services addressing these issues.
"Six Superior Court judges from six counties heard and dismissed dozens of cases on behalf of the attendees," said Marlene Baker of the Veterans Transition Center. "DUIs, trespassing, traffic violations, and other misdemeanors were handled and some very large fines forgiven."
In a medical tent two doctors and five nurses treated cases of diabetes, hypertension, depression, anxiety, and respiratory issues. More than 150 veterans received exams from 43 dentists and 33 hygienists, with follow-on fillings, x-rays and minor surgeries being performed.
Even the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was on site, caring for pets of the homeless vets.
"All who came through the stand down served our country and are truly deserving of any assistance they may need. Some just to start benefit claims … some to enjoy a warm meal for a change," Virrueta said. "The stand down is an invaluable event to all the veterans who pass through. In many cases, this is just that little nudge to get them back on track."