By Amy Guckeen Tolson, Staff Writer Redstone RocketSeptember 29, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--Sandra Childress and Darrell Delaine have no qualms about going out of business if it means not a single veteran will spend tonight on the streets.
"We're going to be in business as long as there is one veteran on the street," Childress said. "We hope to run ourselves out of business."
For the past five years, Childress and Delaine have dedicated their lives and their organization, Operation Stand Down Huntsville, to helping homeless veterans across north Alabama and southern Tennessee find not just any home, but their own. A nationwide movement begun in San Diego in 1988, the grassroots, community-based program was begun as a way to help the nation's estimated 300,000 homeless vets get access to community, state and federal resources. Childress, Delaine and a group of others from the Huntsville area began the Huntsville-based 501(c)3 in 2006 after seeing the work done at Operation Stand Down Nashville.
"We decided there was a need here," Childress said. "If there's a need here, we need to be here."
The 2011 stand down will be held Oct. 21-23 at Joe Davis Stadium in Huntsville, where homeless veterans will have the opportunity to receive warm meals, a hot shower, medical examinations, shelter, legal advice, clothing and haircuts, in addition to assistance in registering for VA benefits, Social Security and food stamps. Entertainment will also be provided throughout the weekend. Volunteers from the community are welcome to join in the event.
"Come out and see them," Childress said. "Talk to them. Help in any way you possibly can. Help us to get them off the street."
The community support is vital, according to Delaine, not only to turn around the attitudes of the veterans that may be homeless, but to turn around the misconceptions the community has about those veterans who are homeless.
"For a lot of us guys, we come into war with a macho attitude, and for the most part, we still have that macho attitude when we leave," Delaine said. "We think, 'If I can get through war OK you can do it too.' That's not true."
Delaine likened the experience homeless veterans have gone through to leaving home for the first time, and coming back, whether it be months or years later.
"Something is different after a year or so has passed -- is the room smaller? Are the parents' attitudes different?" Delaine said. "Nothing changed in that house. The person who walked out that door came back a changed person. How significant that change is, everybody is different. Everybody handles change different."
To help veterans cope with that change, Operation Stand Down is no longer just a one-weekend outreach in Huntsville, but a year-round effort. With offices and ample storage space off University Drive, the organization collects donations of food, clothing and toiletries that they are able to distribute to the homeless veterans, in addition to providing transportation to medical appointments, job interviews and the like. Homeless are given a phone number -- 1-866-242-1790 -- that they can call to connect with someone at Operation Stand Down as their needs arise.
"It's not just for the stand down," Childress said. "We're here seven days a week for whatever their needs are. They can get a hold of somebody at any time."
The number of homeless veterans in the area has decreased in recent years, according to Operation Stand Down. But for every success story, Delaine said there is the occasional homeless veteran that they have never met before that reaches out for help.
"We have homeless veterans that are still going to slip through the cracks," he said. "Our goal is to not allow them to get comfortable and acclimated to street life. We want to turn them around as soon as possible."
Last year's Stand Down brought in 58 homeless veterans from the surrounding community for the event. This year, Childress anticipates it will be about 30, a number they hope to see dwindle as the need for their organization decreases.
"If we don't have another Stand Down I'll be happy," Delaine said.
For more information about Operation Stand Down, visit www.operationstanddownhuntsville.org.