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Taking Care of Our Own

18 December 2014 -- The original Stand Down for homeless veterans was modeled after the Stand Down concept used during the Vietnam War to provide a safe retreat for units returning from combat operations. At secure base camp areas, troops were able to take care of personal hygiene, get clean uniforms, enjoy warm meals, receive medical and dental care, mail and receive letters, and enjoy the camaraderie of friends in a safe environment. This is the purpose of the Stand Down for homeless veterans, and achieving those objectives requires a wide range of support services and time. The program is successful because it brings these services to one location, making them more accessible to homeless veterans. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) website.

Since the first Stand Down in 1988, which took place in San Diego, the program has become recognized as the most valuable outreach tool to help homeless veterans in the nation today. As per the NCHV website.

In Des Moines the event has been going on for the past 20 years, starting in 1994. The event drew in around fifteen hundred homeless and veterans last year, and at the time of the story the numbers hadn't been released for the 2014 event. Although many volunteers from prior years said attendance seemed to be much higher this year
Logistic Readiness Supply (LRS) members from the Iowa 132nd Fighter Wing, Des Moines, Iowa, helped with the tear down after the Homeless Veteran Stand Down weekend came to a close.

One of those members Master Sergeant Kathleen Nayheart showed up at 9 a.m., so they would be able to get done early. They also had the help of volunteers from Home Depot. Nayheart said they started clean up a little earlier this year since in a prior year no volunteers showed up and it took three individuals until 11 p.m., to get all the tents down.

Local nuns and sisters Kathy and JoAnne Talarico have been helping with the Stand Down for many years. Spending their time working in the hair cutting and massage tents. Usually they are also in charge of the chaplains, however this year the Air Force chaplains weren't able to make it. Overall 186 haircuts were given between Friday and Saturday night and there were three massage therapists on hand, giving approximately 20 massages.

"If you don't take care of the human need firsts there's no way to do spiritual," said JoAnne. The nuns said they have a special place in their heart for all homeless people.

They learned a lot about veterans thanks to a neighbor of theirs that was a Vietnam veteran who was badly damaged. He had been homeless for many years and encouraged them to help with the Veteran Stand Down. Their neighbor went from living on the street, to living in his car and now he has a house.
"We shouldn't ever say the words homeless veterans, that shouldn't be in anyone's vocabulary," said Kathy.

Jacob Gruber, a Navy veteran who retired with the Army is now the commander of a local Veterans of Foreign War Post (VFW). He has been volunteering with the Stand Down for about eight years. He generally aids in grounds keeping, picking up trash and emptying garbage cans. During that time he has seen one trend in the event, it's getting a lot bigger.

Steven Smith who is a Navy Veteran and member of the Fleet Reserve and a member VFW is in his sixth year helping. He's seen a large rise in civilians helping out. He says this is due to the rise in younger vets, a lot of them with families. Many are on the verge of being homeless and this event can help keep them from crossing over to the homeless side he noted. A lot of them have decisions to make like do they buy a pair of pants for their kid or do I buy them food. Getting a few jackets out here allow them to make the easy choice to get the food. Little things like that which can make life work. "Many people think it takes thousands of dollars to help but it really doesn't it just takes some compassion," said Smith.