By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY – On Friday, September 15, more than 200 low income and homeless veterans will receive services, care and supplies at the annual “Sooner Stand Down.” The event will be held from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Homeless Alliance’s WestTown Homeless Resource Campus in Oklahoma City, 1724 N.W. 4th Street.
The Stand Down is a collaboration among human service organizations and the Oklahoma VA Health Care System to help central Oklahoma’s homeless and disadvantaged veteran population.
During the event, low income and homeless veterans will have access to barbers, vision, dental, mental health and primary health care services. Additional services such as housing, employment, legal, spiritual and substance abuse counseling also will be available.
Veterans can receive personal hygiene kits, hot meals, sack lunches and bottled water.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development there approxiately 39,400 veterans who are homeless on any given night in the United States. In Oklahoma City, 147 homeless veterans were counted during the one-night census in January.
In addition to the complex set of factors affecting all people who are homeless, a large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse which are compounded by a lack of family and social support networks.
“The Sooner Stand Down allows us to give back to veterans who sacrificed so much for us by providing them with the resources they need in one central location,” said Christine Cleary, Stand Down coordinator and Healthcare for Homeless Veterans social worker with the VA Health Care System in Oklahoma City.
Last year, 201 veterans were served at the Oklahoma City Stand Down. This year, groups of veterans will be traveling to Oklahoma City from several communities around the state to access the services.
The term “Stand Down” originated during WWI when soldiers were pulled back from the trenches for physical and mental respite.
In addition to the services that are provided every year at the Stand Down, organizers plan to house several homeless veterans on the same day of the event.
“The community continues to make progress in housing veterans,” said Dan Straughan, executive director of the Homeless Alliance. “As a community, we’ve been housing an average of 20 veterans each month. With all of the community support we get on the day of the Stand Down, we hope to house ten veterans in that one day.”
Organizations including the Homeless Alliance, Goodwill, Mental Health Association Oklahoma, Oklahoma City Housing Authority, Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency, City Care, Hope Community Services, Neighborhood Services Organization and Red Rock Behavioral Health Services have each agreed to house at least one veteran on the day of the Stand Down to help make the goal possible.
The VA is partnering with the Homeless Alliance and more than 30 other nonprofit, faith-based and government agencies in an effort called Journey Home OKC to house all homeless veterans and people who are chronically homeless in Oklahoma City. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, chronic homelessness is defined as someone with a qualifying disability who has been homeless for more than one year or four times during the course of three years where those occasions cumulatively total at least 12 months.
Launched in January 2015, the Journey Home OKC collaborative group has housed 658 veterans and 410 people who were chronically homeless, two sub-populations that advocates say are typically more challenging to house.
“We are really optimistic about our community’s ability to continue housing veterans,” said Straughan. “The Oklahoma City Housing Authority and Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency have been great partners and stepped-up to make sure we can move people off the streets.”
The Journey Home OKC group currently has 195 veterans on their list of people in need of housing. The group is working to gain a better understanding of the number of veterans who are currently falling into homelessness.
“Unfortunately, if we are housing 20 veterans each month, but more than 20 new veterans are becoming homeless every month, it makes it hard to reach the zero mark,” said Straughan. “It’s an ongoing battle, but one that is worth fighting. Everyone deserves a home.”
Service and healthcare agencies that are participating in the Stand Down include the VA Health Care System, Oklahoma State Department of Veterans Affairs, Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, American Red Cross, CFPB Financial Coaching Program , Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, Social Security Administration, Medicare, Medicaid, the Homeless Alliance, Department of Human Services, Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency, Workforce Oklahoma, Goodwill Industries, Upward Bound, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Upward Transitions, Legal Aid, Oklahoma City Housing Authority, Red Rock Behavioral Health Services, OKC Indian Clinic, OKC Vet Center, North Care, Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Absentee Shawnee Tribe, D-Dent, OU College of Nursing, Catholic Charities, Delaware Nation Vocational Rehabilitation Program, A Chance to Change, Jesus House, NAMI, Heartline, Oklahoma City Police Department and Labor Ready. American Legion Posts, VFW Auxiliary, DAR Samuel King Chapter, The Oklahoma National Guard, Humana and service organizations from all across the state will be providing donations and volunteer labor.
The Homeless Alliance, a 501(c) 3 not-for-profit organization, helps coordinate and improve services for the homeless population of Oklahoma City. For more information about how to help, contact the Homeless Alliance at 405-415-8410 or Christine Cleary with the VA Health Care System at 405-456-1710.