History of Ventura County Stand Down
Making Stand Down a Reality in Ventura County
In 1995, the homeless population in Ventura County was estimated to be between 2 and 4 thousand. Veterans within that population were estimated at 34% to 40%. It is very difficult to count the number of homeless and to determine how many are veterans. However, techniques that have been implemented over those nine years allow for better estimates. Of 813 unsheltered adults in 2014, 176 were identified as veterans. Indeed, the efforts to help homeless veterans to get in off the streets have had a tremendous impact in Ventura County.
In August 1992, some of Ventura County’s finest citizens and leaders gathered for a meeting at the Ventura County Veterans Service Office to discuss the feasibility of establishing a Stand Down in Ventura County. The results of the meeting were positive and the attendees concluded the logistical challenges posed by Ventura County Stand Down could be overcome with the cooperation and commitment of the people of Ventura County. In just one year, we turned an idea into a reality. Today, we continue to build into a vital relief-effort for homeless veterans. Veterans from the Counties of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Los Angeles were invited to participate.
Stand Down 1993 – 2015
After months of pre-event planning, we were ready to go! A tent city was constructed at the California Army National Guard Armory consisting of approximately 14 billeting tents. The tents were used to house the veterans for three days, and service providers were all inside the Armory. Each veteran, upon arriving at the gate, is registered and credentialed by one of the staff volunteers and assigned to a tent, group, and group leader. His/her personal belongings were stored in a secure storage area.
Color-coded identification wristbands are handed out to all participants identifying volunteers, veterans, guests, Stand Down Executive Staff, and VIPs.
Pursuant to being assigned to a tent, the veteran was then allowed to begin accessing the various services. If the veteran had any immediate legal or medical problems, they are directed to those providers first. Clothes, showers, haircuts are also the order of the day for many of the early arrivals.
By the end of the second day, many veterans have already begun making a tremendous transformation in their appearance and mental outlook. The community spirit and sense of camaraderie created during Stand Down helps the homeless veteran immensely.
In addition to providers offering benefit counseling, job referrals, medical or legal help, volunteers also conduct workshops on AIDS, PTSD, agent range, VA medical benefits, etc.
During the three days, eight substantive meals are provided offering a wide range of foods. The Salvation Army in Ventura provides refreshments and snacks between meals.
Entertainment and recreational activities are also available. Live entertainment is provided during the day, encompassing many talented musicians, comedians, and signers from the local area.
The Importance of the Stand Down
For the homeless veteran in Ventura County and elsewhere, life on the streets is debilitating at best. Suffering from lack of shelter, unemployment, physical and emotional disabilities, and lack of food, the homeless veteran often feels completely isolated from mainstream society and unable to break out of the self-perpetuating cycle of homelessness. For those who do seek assistance, many are unable to access the help they need because the services required are spread out over a wide geographic area. This means homeless veterans must exert undue time and energy going from one agency to another. Frustration often results. Imagine how the veteran feels knowing he has given so much for his country and yet finds himself scraping for food. In assisting our veterans who are homeless we realize that sometimes it takes just one small service for them to break out of the cycle of homelessness, such as needing a photo identification card, a bus token, a pair of shoes to start a new job, or not having any funds to pay for their fines that compounds into a bench warrant. Ventura County Stand Down allows access to a wide range of services over a short period of time. These services included medical attention, legal representation, employment counseling, mental health services, financial counseling, access to the court to assist with misdemeanor warrants, food and clothing, etc.
This packet of information is meant to inform you on the importance of Stand Down. If you are not from the Ventura County area, let this information serve as a blue print for action as we all continue to fight for our homeless veterans.