L.A. Homeless Vets Get Free Services
There are 8,000 homeless veterans in the city of Los Angeles, 11 percent of which reside in San Gabriel Valley. Yet, in South El Monte on Thursday, close to 400 veterans were able to receive free healthcare, clothes, showers, haircuts and manicures.
The San Gabriel Valley Veteran’s Employment Committee together with Congresswoman Judy Chu and the U.S. Army hosted the first annual “Stand Down,” an event offering veterans “a hand up…not a hand down.”
Booths circled the entire Whittier Narrows Recreation Area, with large trailers for medical services offering mental health screenings, blood sugar testing and information about breast cancer. There were also tents set up to provide free showers and laundry services, as well as pet care for vets who own animals. AA meetings were also offered to those who wanted to participate.
“The Iraq, Afghanistan veteran is becoming homeless quicker than you can imagine, which is why I’m glad we’re here today,” he said. “They have been invisible way too long and that is unacceptable. If we veterans leave a homeless vet out on the street, it’s the same thing as leaving a wounded warrior bleeding in the battlefield. Let me tell you right now, they are MIAs: missing in America.”
Homeless veterans were bussed from different locations to receive free services from outlets such as the American Red Cross, Humphrey Comprehensive Health Center and the Salvation Army Bell Shelter. The event publicized the growing issue of homelessness among veterans and the many service providers gathered were there for one purpose: to let veterans know that there is help available.
“They don’t receive all the help they should be afforded,” said Vietnam War veteran Dickie Simmons who works as a field deputy to L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe. “It’s not because the services aren’t there, it’s basically that they’re not getting the access to the services. We have a county network and a veteran’s association network that provides ample benefits and services to our veterans. A lot of the veterans just do not get access."
In an effort to promote accessibility, the event had many of the homeless pre-register in order to get their address and information. However, there are still varying factors to why many homeless veterans choose not to get help. Many of them experience a hard transition from military to civilian life and much also has to do with pride, said Simmons.
“They want to live on the street,” he said. “They want the freedom.”
Norma Stone is a homeless Korean War veteran who lost her house in a fire. After losing everything, she stayed on the streets until she got herself into the Naomi House shelter. Compared to other homeless veterans, Stone considers herself lucky. She’s hoping that these events will reach out particularly to women veterans.
“They really, really need all the help not only from the medical staff, but from the community. Some of them are homeless, not because they choose to be but because they’re so war torn. They’re wounded birds that need help.”
Stone herself was fortunate to have a husband and seven children to go home to when she finished serving in the United States Air Force. She also feels fortunate that her PTSD was not as traumatic compared to other veterans.
Stone appreciates events like these because she simply enjoys the smiles and company of her fellow vets.
“They don’t want a hand out, they just need a hand,” she said.
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