Kern County Veterans Stand Down Helps Our Community Make Great Strides in the Fight Against Veteran Homelessness 

Kern County Veterans Stand Down Helps Our Community Make Great Strides in the Fight Against Veteran Homelessness 

Kern County Veterans Stand Down Helps Our Community Make Great Strides in the Fight Against Veteran Homelessness 

Deb Johnson, President & CEO of California Veterans Assistance Foundation, shows some of the giveaway items veterans will be receiving at this years’ Stand Down, including boots, canteens, drawstring backpacks, duffel bags, windbreakers, and more. (Photo Credit: Photo by Louis Medina, Kern County Veterans Stand Down Communications Committee Chair)

Deb Johnson, President & CEO of California Veterans Assistance Foundation, shows some of the giveaway items veterans will be receiving at this years’ Stand Down, including boots, canteens, drawstring backpacks, duffel bags, windbreakers, and more. (Photo Credit: Photo by Louis Medina, Kern County Veterans Stand Down Communications Committee Chair)

Service Providers and Volunteers Needed!

Unfortunately, the words “veteran” and “homeless” are often used together in the same sentence to describe a familiar reality in our community.

Fortunately, there are many local individuals and organizations working to try to make veteran homelessness a thing of the past.

“We are targeting resources and focusing efforts towards ensuring that those who served our country do not have to suffer through the trauma of homelessness,” said Heather Kimmel, Assistant Executive Director of the Housing Authority of the County of Kern and Co-Chair of the Kern County Veterans Stand Down Organizing Committee. 

This year marks Kern’s 21st Annual Stand Down, a one-day, one-stop-shop community service event benefiting all veterans but focusing primarily on those who are homeless or at risk for homelessness. It will be held once again at Bakersfield’s Stramler Park, 3805 Chester Ave., from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10, and anticipates counting on the participation of more than 100 service providers (the current count is at 84) who will be offering FREE assistance to homeless or at-risk veterans and their dependents.

According to the other Stand Down Organizing Committee Co-chair, Deb Johnson, President & CEO of California Veterans Assistance Foundation (CVAF), which is the event’s fiscal agent and lead organizer, in 2018, the Stand Down served 600 veterans and their dependents. Of these, 109 (almost one out of five) were identified as homeless or at risk and quickly linked to housing and other services.

“Stand Down allows CVAF to immediately assess any veteran’s housing crisis and determine the best path moving forward,” Johnson said.

Using a tool called the Homeless Veterans By-Name List, veterans can be placed in a shelter, transitional housing program or receive follow-up services immediately after the event, she said. The list has virtually eliminated chronic, long-term homelessness among mentally or physically vulnerable veterans in our community for more than a year, Kimmel and Johnson said, and made moving homeless veterans into housing a more streamlined, efficient process for service providers.

“It is critical that we identify, assess and develop a housing plan that meets the needs of the veteran,” Johnson said. “There will always be a need for emergency shelter and transitional housing, but we need to focus our priority on the appropriate permanent housing model and have the available inventory to rapidly move them from homelessness to a home.

“Soon, Covey Cottages, consisting of 12 ‘tiny homes’ in Oildale, will be part of that inventory,” she continued. “This low-density housing model works for populations that are extremely low-income, have co-occurring disorders, and have had issues staying permanently housed for long periods of time. We hope this will pave the way for other homeless populations in our community by providing a new, innovative way to work with our most challenging homeless persons.”

Kimmel echoed that sentiment, saying that helping to end veteran homelessness has a positive spillover effect into civilian homelessness prevention efforts. “When we learn how to make homelessness rare, brief, and one-time for veterans,” she said, “we can replicate this process creating a system that works for all homeless populations.”

Besides linkage to housing services, veterans attending the Stand Down can receive such other types of assistance as free breakfast, lunch, groceries and pet food; clothing, shoes and backpacks; grooming services including showers, haircuts and hygiene kits;  medical services; veterans benefits; 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; and more.

All Kern County veterans, regardless of housing status, are welcome to attend, and a similar number of attendees as in 2018 is expected.

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 Jillian Mercer atjillian.mercer@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 & CEO 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 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 or a photo op. 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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