Kern County celebrated its 14th Annual Veterans Stand Down today (10/11/2012) at Bakersfield's Stramler Park. The day-long social services resource fair is special this year for the Kern County Homeless Collaborative for a very good reason: California Veterans Assistance Foundation.
It is the second year in a row that this KCHC member agency has been at the helm of this event, which is popular among veterans—many of whom are homeless.
And between the 2011 and the 2012 Stand Downs, CVAF has procured close to $800,000 in grants for homeless veteran housing and supportive services, including:
$271,000 in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Continuum of Care funding for permanent supportive housing;
$122,000 in U.S. Department of Labor funding for job training and community reintegration;
$175,000 in Veterans Administration funding for Supportive Services for Veteran Families—a sort of Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program for vets; and
$213,000 in Veterans Administration funding for transition-in-place housing.
These additional resources; plus the lessons CVAF learned from last year’s Stand Down (“We know what the kinks were last year and we were able to iron those out,” said Executive Director Heather Kimmel); plus the agency’s key role in helping to organize the Homeless Collaborative’s Project Homeless Connect in April—which, like the Stand Down, is a one-day, one-stop-shop sort of resource fair—contributed toward making the 2012 Stand Down a tighter, more focused event.
“This year, we’re able to focus on what the particular needs of each vet are and how we can meet them immediately,” said CVAF President Deb Johnson. “We can streamline more services to veterans than we’ve ever been able to before.”
The American Red Cross Kern Chapter partnered with CVAF again this year in putting on the local Stand Down, which brought together more than 40 service providers, many of which are KCHC members.
- Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance was there helping 38 vets with Veterans Court, which allows individuals to have minor offenses like traffic violations expunged from their record, thereby removing barriers to gainful employment.
- Clinica Sierra Vista was administering flu shots and HIV tests. Through a collaborative resource-and-data-sharing agreement with the Kern County Department of Public Health and the Veterans Administration, Clinica’s efforts will help to prevent service duplication as well as provide a solid snapshot of the medical needs among the local veteran community. Clinica also played a key role in organizing the exhibitors for this year’s Stand Down under the leadership of its Homeless Coordinator, Margarita Rosson.
- The Women's Club of Bakersfield was giving away hygiene kits in handsomely sewn red-white-and-blue cloth satchels.
- The Bakersfield Pet Food Pantry was distributing pet food and treats for the animal companions of vets in need.
- Flood Bakersfield Ministries had set up its portable showers in a discreet corner of the park for those needing to clean up.
- The Social Security Administration was helping to link veterans to Supplemental Security Income/Social Security Disability Insurance (SSI/SSDI) benefits.
Formerly homeless veteran Darold Christian, who serves as a Voting Member at Large on the Homeless Collaborative's Steering Committee, was at the Stand Down with a friend and neighbor from Haven Cottages, an affordable rental housing complex for homeless individuals with mental illness that is managed by KCHC member agency Golden Empire Affordable Housing.
“I love it,” Christian said of the event. “I look forward to it every year. It’s a relaxing atmosphere.”
Behind the get-away-from-it-all feel of any Stand Down, however, is the stark reality faced by a large number of homeless veterans.
In 2010, the Veteran’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report submitted to Congress by HUD stated that veterans are 50 percent more likely to become homeless compared to all Americans in general.
According to U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) and Veterans Administration estimates, some 67,000 veterans are homeless on any given night of the year.
Risks for homelessness among veterans include high rates of:
• Post-Traumatic Stress;
• Traumatic brain injury;
• Sexual trauma;
• Serious mental illness;
• Substance abuse; and
• Trouble with the law.
Also, according to USICH, homeless veterans are more likely to live unsheltered and experience long-term, chronic homelessness.
The latest full census of sheltered and unsheltered homeless in Kern County, conducted by the Homeless Collaborative in January 2011, revealed that one out of every eight homeless persons counted over a 24-hour period was a veteran, and that one out of every fourth person counted was chronically homeless—meaning they had been homeless for a year or longer, or experienced four or more episodes of homelessness over the last three years.
“Opening Doors,” the Obama Administration’s Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, which was launched in 2010, includes a goal of ending veteran and chronic homelessness by 2015.
The Kern County Homeless Collaborative, which this year received $5.1 million in Continuum of Care funding from HUD, is also tasked with helping to end chronic and veteran homelessness, as are all HUD-funded continuums of care across the country. In the Homeless Census coming up in January 2013, we will be collecting data specifically on women veterans, besides data on veterans in general, in order to fulfill a new HUD requirement to spot recent trends in female veteran homelessness.
The Homeless Collaborative’s mission is clear: “To put an end to homelessness in Kern County—including veteran homelessness—through collaborative planning and action.” We can do this as a community. We can do this as a nation.
As President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in.”
Please visit our home page and click on "Donate" or "Volunteer" to help the Homeless Collaborative in the good fight. Or contact the Homelessness Project Manager at KCHC member agency United Way of Kern County by writing to Louis.M@uwkern.org to find out about the various meetings and committees of the Kern County Homeless Collaborative.