Kern County Veterans Stand Down: Ready for Battle Against Veteran Homelessness Thursday, Oct. 11

Kern County Veterans Stand Down: Ready for Battle Against Veteran Homelessness Thursday, Oct. 11

Kern County Veterans Stand Down: Ready for Battle Against Veteran Homelessness Thursday, Oct. 11

 California Veterans Assistance Foundation (CVAF) President, Deb Johnson.

California Veterans Assistance Foundation (CVAF) President, Deb Johnson.

The Kern County Veterans Stand Down, a one-day, one-stop-shop community service day benefiting all veterans, but focusing primarily on veterans who are homeless or at risk for homelessness, marks its 20th Anniversary Year in the midst of Kern County’s highly publicized homeless crisis.

But the homelessness-fighting troops are ready! Because combatting veteran homelessness with resources that are set aside specifically to assist veterans, helps free up other community resources for non-veteran homeless, and is an effective way to tackle the overall problem of homelessness on multiple fronts.  

All day long on Thursday, Oct. 11, from 8 a.m. till 3 p.m. at Stramler Park, located at 3805 Chester Avenue in Bakersfield, between 450 and 500 veterans and their families will receive such assistance as food for themselves and their pets; haircuts; clothing; linkage to housing, medical services and veterans benefits; and an opportunity to appear at veterans court, which helps veterans remove certain legal barriers from their record that could keep them from obtaining housing, gainful employment and credit.  

These life-changing services will be delivered by close to 100 service providers from the public and private sectors, including non- and for-profit corporations.

Leading the charge is event organizer California Veterans Assistance Foundation (CVAF), whose President, Deb Johnson (in the photo), detailed some of the ways this year’s Veterans Stand Down is poised to make a dent on local homelessness.

First, she said, Stand Down volunteers will be deploying for the first time a best-practice tool called the “Homeless Veteran By-Name List” at check-in. “It’s a way of knowing every veteran you engage with by name,” she said. The list currently contains the names of more than 80 veterans in our community who are homeless, she said, and tracks them until they are permanently housed.

At Stand Down, the list will be updated with information from about 130 anticipated attendees who are either:

  • Literally homeless (those living on the street or staying in a shelter);

  • Unstably housed (those who are uncertain about whether they will be able to afford next month’s rent); or

  • At imminent risk for homelessness (those who have received a three-day “pay-or-quit” eviction notice).

At check-in, these veterans will be provided with a colored wristband that will alert service providers to assist them with homeless services.  

Overlap between people on the list and Stand Down attendees is par for the course, but the event will provide an opportunity to grow the by-name list and gather the latest information on local homeless veterans to greatly help with service delivery. For example, using the list and resources such as CVAF’s transitional and permanent supportive housing beds, hotel vouchers for veteran families, referrals to other shelter or housing service providers, and assistance from the Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Office, the Stand Down Committee hopes to get as many homeless veterans off the streets as possible, and help prevent evictions so that more don’t end up homeless. “We can’t afford to have more people with evictions,” Johnson said. “They are extremely difficult to rehouse.”

Second, for street veterans who can’t be housed immediately, CVAF has a special treat: survival kits that include a backpack, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, blanket, fanny pack, jacket, poncho, hat and gloves (see photos). There are some 100 such kits available—all in a camouflage design that is sure to identify the bearer as a veteran. They were donated to the local Stand Down effort as excess items from the U.S. Department of Defense. “Stand Downs across the country are eligible to receive this service,” Johnson said. Any leftover survival kits can be distributed to homeless veterans at other outreach activities throughout the year.

Third, because it is important for homeless veterans to stay connected with case managers and service providers in our modern age of technology, CVAF will be distributing telephone chargers to help homeless veterans charge their “Obama Phones” (free cell phones with minutes provided under the Lifeline Assistance Program to extremely low-income Americans), and USB drives that will allow them to electronically file scanned copies of vital documents, employment applications, job resumes, etc.

“Every year we seem to find a new need for services for homeless or at-risk veterans in our community,” Johnson said, pointing to such other examples as accelerated urgent care, additional substance abuse services, or no-cost financial services for veterans, such as free checking.   

The 20th Annual Kern County Veterans Stand Down will begin with a patriotic opening ceremony, scheduled for 8 a.m., that will include the Presentation of Colors and the singing of the National Anthem. Amid greetings from local dignitaries, the Stand Down Organizing Committee will recognize diehard supporters who have helped the effort year after year, Johnson said.

All veterans from throughout Kern County, regardless of housing status, are welcome to attend. Veterans will receive breakfast and lunch, and in the afternoon, some 40 of them who have preregistered for Veterans Court will be able to appear before a judge in an effort to have misdemeanor infractions expunged from their record in exchange for community service work.   

There is still time for service providers and volunteers to register to assist veterans through the Veterans Stand Down. All services provided must be FREE to veterans. No sales or enrollment in possible future sales programs are allowed.  Providers may contact Vanessa Williams, Executive Director of CVAF, at vanessa.williams@cavaf.org or 661-873-4600. There are also downloadable Service Provider Registration Forms and Volunteer Forms available on CVAF’s website, www.cavaf.org.

For advance or day-of interviews, please contact Kern County Veterans Stand Down Organizing Committee Co-Chairs:

  • Deb Johnson, President of California Veterans Assistance Foundation, at deb.johnson@cavaf.org, or 661-873-4600; or

  • Heather Kimmel, Assistant Executive Director of the Housing Authority of the County of Kern, at HKimmel@kernha.org, or 661-631-8500 extension 2505.

(SPECIAL NOTE: On Stand Down Day, please be mindful of the fact that a number of our veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and could be nervous about appearing on camera or being approached by members of the media. Kindly use respect and ask first to determine whether a veteran attending the Stand Down will be willing to grant you an interview. If in doubt about whom to ask, feel free to approach any of our Veterans Stand Down volunteers, who will be easily identifiable by the red or blue “U.S. Flag” polo shirts they will be wearing. Thank you.)

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