On Oct. 5, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Appalachian Coalition of Homelessness hosted the sixth annual “Veterans Stand Down” at Carver Park.
The event, which saw over 130 homeless and struggling veterans come through, offered free clothing, food, haircuts and personal care items. All of that in addition to free counseling and substance abuse referrals, employment training, housing resources, legal resources and healthcare services.
Over 20 volunteers and over 40 organizations and various agencies showed up to Carver Park to provide assistance where they could, as did Tennessee Congressional Representative Phil Roe (R-TN).
“It’s just something I like doing,” Rep. Roe said. “I like meeting people, and there’s also quite a few things we found out we want to do for homeless veterans just standing here.”
While there’s still a way to go in order to eliminate homelessness among the veterans in the area, the number of homeless veterans coming through has steadily decreased since 2013. Last year the 2017 Veterans Stand Down helped serve over 180 veterans, a number that dropped over 50 this year.
“We may decide at some point that because of the numbers dropping off that we go to every other year, but we don’t know,” said David Shields, Community Employment Specialist in the Homeless Program at the VA.
While the drop off in the total number of veterans has been a positive, there has been an uptick in homelessness among female veterans as well as LGBT veterans. The uptick in women in the Armed Forces has led to the Dept. of Veterans Affairs increasing the number of programs designed to help assist women as well as the implementation of a Military Sexual-Trauma (MST) program.
“We have a whole MST program, and it’s a shame that we have to have that, but that’s the reality of it,” Shields said. “And it’s not to say that men do not experience that, because they do, but it’s not to the extent women do.”
On the LGBT-side of things, there was a booth set up to help provide services to those veterans identifying as LGBT. A pamphlet distributed by the James H. Quillen VA Medical Center noted that 13 percent of all transgender people are veterans.
Regardless of gender or sexual orientation, however, the need to help assist the nations struggling veterans is something people across the area were quick to respond to.
“It’s absolutely incredible for me,” one veteran volunteer, Chad Berry, said, “Really, the first year we had this stand down I came out just to lend a hand, and that’s when I started getting a passion [to help] homeless veterans.”
Rep. Roe was glad to experience Veterans Stand Down in the area.
”We’re so blessed to have a great VA facility here [in Johnson City],” he said. “My job is to be sure we raise the quality for all veterans hospitals.”
Something as simple as having a local representative attend one of these events is seen as a huge benefit by those hosting these events.
“When we’re having these events, [Rep. Roe] shows up,” Shields said. “He always does, and the veterans always like to see that, and it’s good for them to know that they have that voice that’s willing to come out and be here.”
As Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Roe noted how much going to these events and supporting veterans means to him.
“Homelessness is a sore spot for me because in this year’s budget we approved $7.5 billion to homeless veterans and I don’t think that money is getting to the veterans,” Rep. Roe said. “I want to follow that money and find out why.”